The Life and Deaths of Cyril Wecht - Memoirs of America's Most Controversial Forensic Pathologist - by Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D. and Jeff M. Sewald (Exposit, Jefferson, N.C., 2020)
Dr. Wecht is the best educated, smartest, wisest, passionate, and most honorable and interesting person I have known, and I've met my share of interesting personalities in my fifty years as a reporter and journalist. I have worked closely with him on the JFK case since the early 1990s, first with COPA - the Coalition on Political Assassinations, and now serving on the board of directors with CAPA - Citizens Against Political Assassinations. Along with Professor Peter Dale Scott, I consider him a primary mentor, and seek his advice on issues I think are important, and he's never let me down. After all these years I thought I knew everything about him, but this autobiography brings out the details and the best of the man I thought I knew.
You can't know Dr. Wecht without knowing that his hometown is his beloved Pittsburgh, and he tells his story to Pittsburgh writer and filmmaker Jeff Sewald, whose films include "Gridiron and Steel," a documentary focusing on the spiritual relationship between the sport of football and the people of southwest Pennsylvania, and "We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told," that chronicles the history of jazz music in Pittsburgh.
After writing 45 professional books for doctors and lawyers, this is Dr. Wecht's ninth popular book, and a tenth is on the way that will deal exclusively with his role in the JFK assassination. That is one case of many, some of which are dealt with in this book, that depicts the major events of his life and career, including the deaths of a number of celebrities - Elvis Presley, Nicole Brown Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, Laci Paterson, et al, that the readers of tabloid magazines will find fascinating. And he gives just as much attention to detail to little people, whose deaths don't make headlines. It is his life however, that intrigues me, and his role in the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy that I am most interested.
Now 89 years old, Dr. Wecht has not slowed down, works every day, still conducting forensic autopsies of those who have passed away, been murdered or have died suspiciously, averaging 500 a year, - that's more than one a day. He also responds to requests for interviews from students, reporters and television media, especially when a celebrity dies. He also makes presentation before various community and professional groups, invariably asked about the topic he is most known for - the assassination of President Kennedy, and he talks to any group that asks him, much to the chagrin of his associates and peers.
In Washington D.C. a few years ago, Dr. Wecht left the Assassinations Archives and Research Center (AARC) conference in Bethesda to talk to a competing conference that included Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, who had written a book blaming the assassination of JFK on LBJ, and disgraced professor James Fetzer, who had denied the Sandy Hook massacre ever occurred. While Dr. Wecht didn't actually share the stage with them or endorse their beliefs, and had some profane words to describe them when asked, he stuck to his policy of talking to any group who asks. He later caused a major riff in his own organization, CAPA, for which he is chairman, when he left a Dallas CAPA conference to address a competing conference run by a women who claimed to be Lee Harvey Oswald's girlfriend. "I don't care whether it is true or not," Wecht said, "it doesn't matter whose screwing around with who." So he addressed the conference without endorsing the beliefs of any of the other speakers, explaining how he became involved in the JFK case, and where it stands today.
It is how Dr. Wecht got to where he is today that I found most interesting. It was while a full-time resident in pathology at Pitt 1957-1959 when he also began to study law, and became involved in Committee for the Medical Examiner System that he began to compile information on new developments in forensic pathology and examined the inner workings of the Allegheney County Coroner's office, "which we found incredibly backward, and said so - publicly."
The office, run by those incompetent to do so professionally, didn't have a proper autopsy table or even a microscope. But that was before he could do anything about it. In the meantime, he was called for military service, and was enlisted in the Air Force.
"As a man in uniform," Wecht explains, "I caught a break by being stationed at the Air Force's largest hospital, Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama. Comprising more than 400 beds and staffed with specialists in a variety of medical fields, it was the Air Force's hub when it came to pathology. Approximately 28 Air Force bases throughout the Southeast regularly sent us specimens for study, and the workload kept me and my military colleague plenty busy - yet, typically not busy enough for me. But before long, the full-court press of my professional life and personal ambition was tamed ever so slightly by a young, attractive Norwegian-born women: Sigrid Ronsdal, Airman First Class."
After meeting on a double-date, they were married in Pittsburgh, have three sons and a daughter, each successful in their professions.
As I was reading Dr. Wecht's service at Maxwell Air Force Base, where he met his wife Sigrid, I was working on another story, one about how Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay led a two day conference of Air Force generals at Maxwell a week before President Kennedy was killed. I was corresponding with a Maxwell base historian, which I thought was another of those interesting and quirky coincidences.
In 1964 Dr. Wecht was asked to address the 1965 AAFS meeting on the Warren Report conclusions from the perspectives of pathology, toxicology, psychiatry, criminalistics, anthropology, etc., so he went to the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh to review the Warren Report and accompanying 26 volumes. "To my astonishment," he says, "I found that, other than a small and incomplete one at the tail end of Volume 15, it had no index. My contention has always been that the Feds had done this deliberately so that neither the American public nor the news media would bother to read let alone research the report. But no matter. Eventually, I was able to pull together the information that I needed, prepare my presentation and deliver it at the annual conference of the AAFS, in February 1965. And I've been up to my eyeballs with the JFK assassination ever since."
In 1978 Dr. Wecht served on the forensic-pathology panel for the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), reviewing and analyzing the Warren Commission Report regarding the assassination of President Kennedy, in which he filed a minority report, disagreeing with the majority of those on the panel. He was also granted the opportunity to be the first non-governmental forensic scientist to review the autopsy materials of John F. Kennedy.
Dr. Wecht was known to be honest and truthful about his analysis, and couldn't be paid to say something he didn't believe, and that is the reason I think he was intentionally excluded from key meetings and interviews the rest of the panel kept him ignorant of, just like the two primary autopsy doctors Humes and Boswell, kept Dr. Pierre Finck from a post autopsy review of what was left of JFK's brain. Neither Humes nor Boswell, US Navy doctors, had never conducted an autopsy of a gunshot wound before, and while Army doctor Finck had, he was late and arrived at the autopsy after the brain had been removed. Dr. Wecht thinks his exclusion from the HSCA meetings and Finck's exclusion from the brain exam and subsequent exile were intentional. When Wecht was given permission to examine the autopsy material, he found that the remnants of the brain were missing, and unaccounted for.
As Dr. Wecht concludes: "For me, when it comes to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the arrow on the dial of guilt keeps pointing to the CIA, for a host of reasons. The CIA was at loggerheads with Kennedy about his approach to handling Fidel Castro and Cuba, which the agency saw as appeasement, or being 'soft on communism.' The CIA also resented the President's refusal to provide (air) cover for the Cuban exiles brigade, which had been trained and funded by the U.S. government and the CIA for the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961...."
When he gets annoyed or passionate about something, Dr. Wecht's profanity explodes, and he doesn't hide it in this book, as he says, "I'll tell you another thing: JFK was not killed by the Mafia. They wouldn't have had the balls to knock off a sitting President...."
"My adversarial attitude toward government - and, at times, the press - is what always made me appear dangerous to the establishment (and sometimes to myself). In my opinion, the level of paranoia in America knows no bounds, and this includes the criminal justice system and corporate media. When you're a professional person considering the murder of a sitting president - I'm talking about my colleagues in forensic science and the press - and you chose to stand by the official government version of events, how can you reverse that later on, even when new evidence accrues against it? You can't. You're stuck, and so are they."
As he quotes Joseph Conrad saying, "You shall judge a man by his enemies as well as his friends," and they they have certainly retaliated. As the newly released JFK assassination records reveal, he was intentionally kept out of key interviews and meetings of the House Select Committee on Assassination (HSCA) pathology panel, undoubtedly because they knew he would not just agree to go along with their cover up.
Those who hire Dr. Wecht as a special witness on a case know going in he will not just say what they want him to say but what his analysis concludes after a detailed review of the evidence.
In 2008 those his enemies with the power to do so went after him with a vengeance, accusing him of abusing the office he had been repeatedly elected to, including, among other things, of having his secretary attend to non-official business, something every CEO could be accused of.
As Jeff Sewald puts it in his introduction: "At an age when many American men have either already left us or are spending their time playing golf or sunning themselves in Florida,... Cyril Wecht found himself confronting a ginned-up 84-count federal indictment for 'abuse of public office.' The trial that followed had an undercurrent of local political skullduggery and a gallery of colorful supporting players, including a hard-nosed defense attorney; a kindly Catholic nun who described the government agents who were seated in the courtroom during the trial as a 'pack of mad dogs'" Mephistophelian federal prosecutors; a discredited FBI agent; and a conniving and soulless district attorney. Had our protagonist been caught in a vast and sticky web of dirty politics, professional opportunism and personal revenge? We'll present Cyril's case."
And he does. As did the Republican governor of Pennsylvania who came to his aide at the time, and even Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania senator who remained friends with Dr. Wecht over the years, despite their very public and heated arguments over the single-bullet-theory. Specter even attended and made a presentation at a JFK assassination Conference hosted by the Wecht Center for Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University.
"I have been speaking about the JFK assassination for decades, on TV and in the press, and at many venues including the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law, and at conferences sponsored by Citizens Against Political Assassinations (CAPA), an organization for which I am Chairman. Through CAPA, my colleague and I remain in pursuit of the release of the remaining records related to the assassination. Our goal is to find the truth, once and for, and to seek justice."
As the Research Coordinator for CAPA and serving on the board of directors, I have been participating in twice monthly conference calls with Dr. Wecht, who runs the meetings smoothly, confidently and occasionally spiced with humor, getting things done and not beating around the bush.
From my research into the historical and detailed circumstances of the assassination, and his extensive analysis of the forensic pathology aspects, we have both come to the same conclusion, while we don't know exactly who killed the President, what occurred at Dealey Plaza at 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963 was a covert intelligence operation designed to deceive and a coup d'etat, the violent change in government power.
And I believe we will soon obtain the remaining sealed government records and we will obtain our goal of finding the truth, though at this point in time, justice will be fleeting.
Bill Kelly Billkelly3@gmail.com