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Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, what are the major conclusions of the forensic pathology panel with which you are in disagreement?
Cyril Wecht: The major disagreement is the single-bullet theory which I deem to be the very essence of the Warren Commission report's conclusions and all the other corroborating panels and groups since that time. It is the sine qua non of the Warren Commission report's conclusions vis-a-vis a sole assassin. Without the single-bullet theory, there cannot be one assassin, whether it is Oswald or anybody else.
I am in disagreement with various other conclusions of the panel. I am most unhappy and have been extremely dismayed by their failure to insist upon the performance of appropriate experiments, which I believe could have been undertaken with a reasonable degree of expenditure of time, energy, and money to once and for all show whether a bullet 6.5-millimeter, copper-jacketed, leadcore piece of military-type ammunition could indeed strike a rib and a radius in a human being and emerge in the condition which Commission exhibit 399 is today.
I am extremely unhappy about the fact that a greater and more intensive effort was not made to locate the missing pieces of very important medical evidence in this case, which I pointed out back in the summer of 1972. Not that I was the first to learn of this, but amazingly, nobody had made that public disclosure prior to that time. I have raised same questions concerning the head wound and the possibility, albeit remote, of a second shot fired in synchronized fashion from the right side or the lower right rear, synchronized with the head shot that struck the President in the back of the head. And this is related to a few pieces, a couple of pieces of evidence and, again, emphasizes the necessity of having the brain to examine. These are the major areas. There are, of course, numerous facets of all of these disagreements that are related to the so-called single-bullet theory.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, is it your opinion that no bullet could have caused all of the wounds to President Kennedy and Governor Connally or the Commission exhibit 399 could not have caused all of the wounds to both men?
Cyril Wecht: Based upon the findings in this case, it is my opinion that no bullet could have caused all these wounds, not only 399 but no other bullet that we know about or any fragment of any bullet that we know about in this case...
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, what is the basis for your opinion that Commission exhibit 399 could not have caused all of the wounds to President Kennedy and Governor Connally?
Cyril Wecht: It is a composite based upon several things: The timing of the Zapruder film, which we know runs at 18.3 frames or individual units of the film strip per second; the evaluation of the wounds in the President and Governor Connally; the timing of the test-firing in the hands of the most skilled marksman the Government could find in 1964 of this Mannlicher-Carcano weapon, the bolt action nonautomatic World War II Italian carbine, a grossly inferior weapon; the very vivid testimony of Governor John Connally about which he has been completely consistent for the past 14 years concerning the fact that he was struck by a different bullet; the vertical and horizontal trajectories that must be attributed to Commission exhibit 399 if the single-bullet theory is to be substantiated. These are the various factors that relate to the single-bullet theory.
Donald Purdy: So, Dr. Wecht, it is your opinion, that were tests to be conducted to simulate these wounds, such tests could sufficiently duplicate the wounds in question to have an accurate illustration?
Cyril Wecht: Let me point out, that these tests that I am referring to have been performed, in fact, by a pathologist, Professor John Nichols, University of Kansas School of Medicine, a full-time academician, who shot them through ribs and wrists. I know Dr. Nichols. He is not an independently wealthy man. He was able to do this; he was able to get the materials; he was able to set up the experiments and follow through. Why our panel of distinguished experts with all our expertise and this staff representing a very prominent committee which, in turn, represents the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, why such tests could not be performed is beyond me. I feel constrained to say that they were not performed because people knew full well what the results would be. I also want to take strong exception with the statement that if one were to shoot through bones that are not innervated and vascularized as they are in living human beings, one cannot be sure that one is getting similar reactions. Here, we are not talking about how the President's body would have reacted to the head wound. We are not talking about that. We are talking only about whether a bullet, as several members of the House Committee have questioned Dr. Baden, we are talking about what the condition of the bullet would be if it went through these bones. There is no problem in setting up that experiment.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, what point along the film do you feel corresponds with the time when President Kennedy and Governor Connally were ,supposed to have been hit, according to the single bullet theory?
Cyril Wecht: . Commission exhibit of - I am sorry - an exhibit of this panel, of this committee, of 229, which is a blow-up of Zapruder frame 193, demonstrates the President and Governor Connally just before they go in behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. Both gentlemen are turned to the right facing the crowd and their right arms are extended in a wave of greeting or recognition. This exhibit F-272, is a blowup of Zapruder frame 222 and shows Gov. John Connally after emergence from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, and F-244, which is a blowup of Zapruder frame 225, shows the President and Gov. John Connally. In my opinion, Zapruder frame 193 clearly demonstrates that neither gentlemen had been shot.
Donald Purdy: Wecht, based on F-229, what is the basis for your opinion that neither man had been struck by a bullet in that photograph?
Cyril Wecht: There is absolutely no external physical manifestation, no reaction of any kind on their part of a voluntary or involuntary nature which would even suggest they have been struck by a missile.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, is it possible that either or both men have been struck by a bullet but are not yet manifesting a reaction?
Cyril Wecht: In my opinion, without any question, no.
Donald Purdy: referring to F-272, which corresponds with Zapruder frame 222, is it your opinion that Governor Connally is indicating a reaction to being struck in that photograph?
Cyril Wecht: No; absolutely not.
Donald Purdy: Referring to F-244, is there any indication on that photograph that either or both men have been struck by a bullet?
Cyril Wecht: Yes. President John F. Kennedy has definitely been struck, as seen on F-244, Zapruder frame 225. Gov. John Connally, in my opinion, has not been struck in that frame, as of that frame.
Donald Purdy: Referring again to F-244, what is the earliest prior to that point that President Kennedy would have had to have been struck?
Cyril Wecht: I would say probably somewhere like - well I can't - I would put it, based upon the timing of the Zapruder film and counting the frames, I would put it back somewhere about a half a second, maybe even a little bit more, somewhere along there. I cannot be precise. I do want to point out at this time, if I may, because there is some confusion on this, sometimes there has been deliberate misrepresentation of the period of time during which the two gentlemen are behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. That is a period of 0.9 seconds. I emphasize that because we see in F-229 that indeed Gov. John Connally is sitting directly in front of the President. We see in F-244 that Gov. John Connally is still seated directly in front of the President. When we bring up the question of the trajectory, that hopefully we will get into later, they say, ah, but we cannot know what happened when they were behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. I just think it is important for the record to reflect upon the fact that what presumably they are asking us to just speculate upon is that in that 0.9 second interval, the President bent down to tie his shoelace or fix his sock, he was then shot and then sat back up. I do not mean to be flip, this is a very serious matter, but I would suggest that is a movement that the most skilled athlete, knowing what he is going to do, could not perform in that period of time. That is very important to understand, because we see their positions before and immediately afterward. I think it is pure poppycock, it would be an insult to this committee for anybody to suggest that we can't really determine trajectory because we don't know what the physical relationship was between the two men when the President was shot, and when they say under the single bullet theory, John Connally had also been shot.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, what was the nature of the wound through President Kennedy that indicates to you that he would have reacted to being struck as quickly as you indicate?
Cyril Wecht: He was struck in the back. There are a variety of nerves that innervate the skin, the musculature, blood vessels, and so on. He, as indeed Gov. John Connally, were both healthy, adult males, in a very vibrant, dynamic sensitive situation, attuned very much to their environment, and there is no question in my mind that the reaction would have occurred immediately in an infinitesimal moment.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, based on the photograph, you have already gone into the issue of trajectory and articulated to some extent why you believe the President and the Governor were not lined up in such a way that a bullet could have passed between them. How certain are you that they could not have been lined up behind the sign when they were out of the view of the camera?
Cyril Wecht: I am absolutely certain for the reasons that I have already given and as are demonstrated on these films. There is simply no way in the world that the kinds of changes of positions of these two men required by the single bullet theory could have been accomplished. There is no physiological way in which it could have been performed, there is no basis to speculate on why such a movement would have occurred. Quite literally, John Connally would have had to have moved a foot or more to his left and then moved back, and/or the President would have had to have almost leaned out of the car and then to have come back to his position. And I am not being the least bit facetious. That is what would have had to have occurred in that nine-tenths of a second interval if we are to assume that this bullet went through the two men in the fashion attributed to it in the single bullet theory.
Donald Purdy: What is it about the normal paths of bullets which leads you to the conclusion that these diagrams illustrating the photographs, permit you to conclude that the bullet did not pass through both men?
Cyril Wecht: The inescapable fact that unless a bullet, especially one fired from a high speed weapon, reasonably high speed, approximately 2,000 feet per second muzzle velocity - unless it strikes something of firm substance, such as bone or something else, that that bullet will travel in a straight line.
Donald Purdy: Mr. Chairman, I would ask at this time that the item marked JFK exhibit F-245, which is a blowup of frame 230 of the Zapruder film, be entered into the record... Dr. Wecht, in your opinion, could Governor Connally have incurred the damage to his wrist which is described in the medical reports and still be holding the hat as shown in this photograph?
Cyril Wecht: No; absolutely not. In F-245, which is a blowup of Zapruder frame 230, we are told under the single bullet theory that Gov. John Connally, for a period of approximately one and a half seconds, has already been shot through the right chest with the right lung pierced and collapsed, through the right wrist, with the distal end of the radius comminuted and the radial nerve partially severed. I heard some vague reference to a nerve in the prior testimony, but I didn't hear the followthrough discussion that I was waiting for about nerve damage. There was nerve damage, yes, to the radial nerve. And the thumb which holds this large Texas white Stetson that is required for it to be in apposition with the index or index and middle fingers to hold that hat is innervated by the radial nerve. Note in F-245 that the hat is still being held and Governor Connally is not reacting. This is again a very alert individual, under a very special circumstance, and I do not believe or accept for one moment the story that we must accept under the single bullet theory that this gentlemen, at this point, one and a half seconds previously, has already been shot through his chest, through his wrist, and into his left thigh.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, is it your opinion based on this exhibit, JFK exhibit F-245, that Governor Connally is not yet injured in any way?
Cyril Wecht: Yes; that is my opinion.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, Is it possible that he had been injured prior to this frame but has not yet manifested a reaction?
Cyril Wecht: NO; I do not believe so, not given the nature and extents of his wounds, the multiplicity and the areas damaged, I do not believe that.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, given the nature of his wounds, how much prior to the time that he manifests a reaction is the earliest he could have been struck?
Cyril Wecht: Well, a fraction of a second, again, an infinitesimal moment. It is possible that a fraction of a second earlier he could have been shot, although I do not believe that. Please keep in mind that now we must correlate that with the Governor's own version, and remembering that this bullet was traveling 2,000 feet per second muzzle velocity, much faster than the speed of sound. Please keep in mind that it does not seem at all likely. I doubt that it is possible that he had already been struck. The panel (of experts assembled by the House Select Committee on Assassinations), to the best of my recollection, was in unanimous agreement that there was a slight upward trajectory the bullet through President John F. Kennedy, that is to say, that the-bullet wound of entrance on the President's back, lined up with the bullet wound of exit in the front of the President's neck drawing a straight line, showed that vertically the bullet had moved slightly upward, slightly, but upward. That is extremely important for two reasons. One, under the single bullet theory - with Oswald as the sole assassin, or anybody else, in the sixth floor window, southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository Building, you have the bullet coming down at a downward angle of around 20-25 degrees, something like that, maybe a little bit less. It had originally been postulated, I think, by the autopsy team, and the initial investigators, at considerably more. How in the world can a bullet be fired from the sixth floor window, strike the President in the back, and yet have a slightly upward direction? There was nothing there to cause it to change its course. And then with the slightly upward direction, outside the President's neck, that bullet then embarked upon a rollercoaster ride with a major dip, because it then proceeded; under the single bullet theory, through Gov. John Connally at a 25 degree angle of declination. To my knowledge, there has never been any disagreement among the proponents and defenders of the Warren Commission report or the critics, about the angle of declination in John Connally - maybe a degree or two. We have that bullet going through the Governor at about 25 degrees downward. How does a bullet that is moving slightly upward in the President proceed then to move downward 25 degrees in John Connally. This is what I cannot understand. My colleagues on the panel are aware of this. We discussed it, and what we keep coming back to is, "well, don't know how the two men were seated in relationship to each other." I don't care what happened behind the Stemmons freeway sign, there is no way in the world that they can put that together, and likewise on the horizontal plane, the bullet, please keep in mind, entered in the President's right back, I agree, exited in the anterior midline of the President's neck, I agree, and was moving thence by definition, by known facts, on a straight line from entrance to exit, from right to left. And so with that bullet moving in a leftward fashion, it then somehow made an acute angular turn, came back almost two feet, stopped, made a second turn, and slammed into Gov. John Connally behind the right armpit, referred to medically as the right posterior axillary area. The vertical and horizontal trajectory of this bullet, 399, under the single bullet theory is absolutely unfathomable, indefensible, and incredible.
Cyril Wecht: Yes; I believe F-246, which is a blowup of Zapruder frame 237, demonstrates that Gov. John Connally has now been struck.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, what is it about his movements that leads you to the conclusion that he has been struck?
Cyril Wecht: The body is turning, the cheeks are puffing out, there is a noticeable grimace on his face, in contrast, for instance, to F-245, Z-frame 230, and there seems to be some dishevelment of his hair. These features can be seen very dramatically also one frame later, F-247, or Zapruder frame 238, which I remind you is one eighteenth of a second interval away, and you can see the hair movement, the twisting of the body. There is no question in my mind that the Governor has now been hit.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, referring again to the JFK exhibits F-229, F-272 and F-244, which are the frames immediately before and the frames after the sign, you discussed the fact that the men did not line up in a horizontal trajectory?
Cyril Wecht: Yes. The panel, to the best of my recollection, was in unanimous agreement that there was a slight upward trajectory the bullet through President John F. The vertical and horizontal trajectory of this bullet, 399, under the single bullet theory is absolutely unfathomable, indefensible, and incredible.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, what evidence is there which supports the possibility that there was a shot from the side or from the lower right rear?
Cyril Wecht: Very meager, and the possibility based upon the existing evidence is extremely remote. There is a small piece of some material that is present at the base of the external scalp, just above the hairline, which has never been commented on before except by me following the 1972 investigation of the material at the Archives, and later commented upon by this forensic pathology panel. There is a total deformation of the right side of the cranial vault with extensive fractures of the calvarium, the top portion of the skull, and extensive scalp lacerations and loss of soft tissue, so that we cannot exactly know where the exit wound was. It is, therefore, possible that that extensive deformity of the scalp, underlying galea, underlying bone calvarium, could also be the locus of the second shot of some kind of frangible ammunition which would not have penetrated deeply or at all through the calvarium. I want to emphasize that this is remote but I have pointed this out because it is a possibility. The question of the President's movement after he was struck in the head makes us direct our attention toward such a possibility and, of course, the absence of the brain and the failure of the original pathologists to have conducted studies that are routine, perfunctory in any kind of an autopsy where the brain has been fixed in formalin, to serially section the brain 10 to 14 days later, and the absence of the brain and the inability or the failure of the staff to obtain that medical evidence, all of these things, I believe, make it important to just raise that possibility, remote as it may be, that a second shot might have struck the President in the head in synchronized or simultaneous fashion.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, to what extent would having access to the brain itself enable a final determination as to whether or not the remote possibility of a shot from the side is supported or refuted by the evidence?
Cyril Wecht: Well, examination of the brain would help a great deal. Of course, if the bullet had not penetrated through the calvarium then there would be no evidence of a second bullet track in the soft brain tissue. If it had penetrated partly, or even a fragment or two, then certainly at that time, and even today, if the brain had been properly preserved and fixed and the formalin solution changed every so often, one would be able, I believe, to tell whether there is only one bullet track, that is, from the right upper occipital region down to the lower right temporal parietal area. The brain would be extremely important to help us determine whether more than one missile had penetrated or a fragment of a second missile might have penetrated the brain along with the one that we do know definitely penetrated. I am in agreement with the description that was presented today regarding the shot through the head.
Donald Purdy: Dr. Wecht, does the present state of available evidence permit the conclusion that to a reasonable degree of medical certainty there was not a shot from the side which struck the President?
Cyril Wecht: Yes, with reasonable medical certainty I would have to say that the evidence is not there. I have already said it is a remote possibility and I certainly cannot equate that with reasonable medical certainty.
Gary Cornwall: Directing your attention, next, to the single-bullet theory, as I understand your testimony, it is not that one bullet of the Mannlicher-Carcano type would not have been powerful enough to go through the neck, the chest, the wrists and imbed itself in the thigh, is that correct, as a matter of mere power?
Cyril Wecht: Yes; I believe that it is possible for that kind of ammunition to go through those several portions of human body.
Gary Cornwall: And if the single-bullet theory is not correct, how many bullets, in your view, did strike the two occupants of the car?
Cyril Wecht: Of course, then - let me answer that, I believe that the President was struck definitely twice, one bullet entering in the back, and one bullet entering in the back of the head. I believe that Gov. John Connally was struck by a bullet, and I believe that another bullet completely missed the car. I think that there were four shots most probably fired. I eagerly await with extreme anticipation the results of the consulting firm that I understand your committee has retained in Boston, Bolt, Beranek & Newman, concerning their interpretative studies of the motorcycle policeman's tape from that day; as to whether or not they have definitely found evidence of four shots having been fired. But I think your question was, how many bullets struck the occupants, and I think that there is definite evidence for three. There is a possibility of more, but I can't really introduce evidence that would corroborate that; more than three.
Following the autopsy of President Kennedy, Robert I. Bouck, the head of the Protective Research Division of the U.S. Secret Service in 1963, received all of the materials relating to the autopsy from Agent Kellerman, and maintained these items in the White House under security for Dr. George Burkley the White House physician. On April 22, 1965, Robert F. Kennedy authorized a release of all of these materials to Mrs. Evelyn Lincoln, who then had an office in the National Archives. Mrs. Lincoln was in the process of assisting in the transfer of President Kennedy's official papers to the National Archives. In response to this order, Mr. Bouck and Dr. Burkley prepared an inventory list and transferred these materials to Mrs. Lincoln. Included in those materials was one stainless steel container, 7 inches in diameter and 8 inches - 7 by 8, containing the inventory list indicated gross material. The best speculation is that stainless steel container held the brain. On October 31, 1966, Burke Marshall, a representative of the Kennedy family, formally transferred the autopsy material to the Archives. I don't mean this physically, because the materials were allegedly in the Archives at the time in the custody of Mrs. When that transfer occurred, the steel container was not included. The committee, as I indicated this morning has conducted a comprehensive investigation in an attempt to locate the missing materials. The people interviewed have included Dr. Burkley, Dr. Humes, Mr. Bouck, Ramsey Clark, Mrs. Lincoln, Ms. Angela Novelli, Robert Kennedy's secretary, Dr. Finck, and Mr. Marshall, and all of the relevant Archives people. As I indicated this morning, over 30 people have been either interviewed or deposed. The closer they came to the chain of custody they were deposed. We've even interviewed all of the people associated with the reinterment of the President's body. That interviewing and deposition process has not indicated with certainty what happened. As I indicated earlier this morning, a Kennedy family spokesman did indicate that Robert Kennedy expressed concerns that these materials could conceivably be placed on public display many years from now and he wanted to prevent that. I would infer from that that the most likely result is that the President's brother destroyed the documents.
Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, forensic pathologist and renowned-coroner-in-the-making, was in a Los Angeles morgue surrounded by corpses when the news broke.
Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Arlen Specter was stepping into an elevator en route to a murder trial. The clock at City Hall said 1:40 p.m.
It was 40 years ago next Saturday. President Kennedy, torchbearer of a new generation of Americans, trailblazer to the New Frontier, had been cut down by an assassin's bullet in Dallas.
Neither Wecht, then 32, nor Specter, then 33, could have known then they would soon become inextricably linked with that momentous event and the endless debate about what really happened during those "six seconds in Dallas" on Nov. 22, 1963.
Specter, now the state's senior U.S. senator, went on to work with the Warren Commission's investigation of the assassination, and wrote the famous or, depending on one's perspective, infamous "single-bullet theory" that supported the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed Kennedy.
Wecht, now the Allegheny County coroner and a power in local and state politics for decades, became one of the foremost critics of that official version. In his 1993 book, "Cause of Death," Wecht characterized the Warren Report as "absolute nonsense" and Specter's single-bullet assertion "an asinine, pseudoscientific sham at best."
In answer to our major question as to whether shots came from a direction other than the Book Depository Building, indicating other gunmen and a conspiracy, we have eye - or ear witnesses inside the building saying the shots came from there. Now, Mr. Holland who was on the railroad overpass, here, insists that he heard a shot from here. And in Mark Lane's book. Rush to Judgment, he writes that fifty-eight out of ninety people who were asked about the shots thought they came from the grassy knoll.
Now, expert opinions differ. All the experts agree that the shots could have come from the rear. But where some experts, such as Dr. Humes, say bluntly that they did, others - such as Dr. Wecht - find it highly unlikely.
CBS News concludes that the most reasonable answer is that the shots came from the Book Depository building, behind the President and Governor Connally. But if the shots came from the rear, and if there were only three of them, can all the wounds be accounted for? The President was struck at least twice. Governor Connally was wounded in the chest, the wrist, and the thigh. One bullet was recovered intact, as well as two large fragments. The Warren Commission concluded that of the three bullets fired, one missed entirely, one struck the President's skull and fragmented, and the third - this one - passed through the President's neck and went on to inflict all the governor's wounds. This is the single-bullet theory. And so we must ask: Could a single bullet have wounded both President Kennedy and Governor Connally?
We asked Arlen Specter, assistant counsel to the Commission, and now district attorney of Philadelphia, and the author of the single-bullet theory.
Arlen Specter: The possibility of one bullet having inflicted the wounds on both the President's neck and the Governor's body came in a very gradual way. For example, the first insight was given when Dr. Humes testified, based on his autopsy findings. And at that time it was made clear for the first time that the bullet that went through the President's neck hit no bone, hit no solid muscle. And, according to Dr. Humes, came out with great velocity.
Now, it was at that juncture that we wondered for the first time what happened to the bullet. Where did the bullet go? The probability is that it went into Governor Connally, because it struck nothing else in the car. That is the single most convincing piece of evidence that the one bullet hit both men, because looking down the trajectory, as I did through Oswald's own rifle, and others did too, the trajectory was such that it was almost certain that the bullet which came out of the President's neck with great velocity would have had to have hit either the car or someone in the car.
Forensic Pathologist Cyril Wecht examined the Kennedy autopsy photographs and X-rays. He calculated the angle of the bullet that entered the rear of the back and presumably exited through the "exit" hole in the throat. Wecht estimated the angles of the bullet path as 11.5 degrees downward and 17.5 degrees right to left. Both of these angles are incompatible with a shot fired from the sixth-floor southeast corner window of the Texas School Book Depository building. They are also incompatible with a bullet exiting Kennedy's throat and striking Governor Connally. The governor was struck on the right side of his back between the shoulder blade and the armpit. Since he was sitting directly in front of President Kennedy, a bullet traveling downward and right to left could not have struck Governor Connally unless the bullet made a right and then a left angle turn in mid-air. Wecht calculated that the bullet which exited the president's throat (an unproven assumption) would have passed over Mrs. Connally's right shoulder and over the left shoulder of the driver of the limousine, Secret Service Agent William Greer, and then would have struck the grass on the north side of Elm Street. Wecht believes that based on his computation of the angles of the bullet wounds in President Kennedy and Governor Connally, that the shots were fired from a lower floor of the Book Depository building and from the roof of the Dal-Tex building...
Even though precise angles of the bullet wounds are not known, Dr. Wecht's contention that a bullet fired from the sixth-floor southeast corner window of the Depository building and passing through President Kennedy's neck could not have hit Connally of the right side of his back is strongly supported by the known facts. Except for eighteen frames (or one second), the Zapruder film clearly shows Governor Connally to be seated directly in front of President Kennedy If a bullet fired from the sixth-floor window entered the rear of Kennedy's neck and exited from the front of his throat, it would have traveled at a right-to-left angle to strike Connally Since the entrance hole on Governor Connally's back was to the right of the alleged exit hole of the bullet from Kennedy's throat, that same bullet could not have struck the governor. Only during that one second, when the street sign blocked Zapruder's view of the limousine, could Connally have been struck by the same bullet. That is possible only under the extremely unlikely circumstance that the governor jumped out of his seat, moved four feet to his left, squatted down, received a shot in the back, then returned to his original position - all within one second.
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.
‘Smiley Face Killers’ gang was behind young men's drownings, former NYPD detectives claim in new doc
“Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice” follows retired NYPD Detective Kevin Gannon (right) and his team of investigators: Anthony Duarte, Mike ‘Mikey’ Donovan and D. Lee ‘Doc’ Gilbertson who have dedicated the past 12 years of their retirement to finding justice for these cases. — Anton Floquet
Retired detective Kevin Gannon insists the drowning deaths of dozens of college-aged men across America since the late '90s are the work of a serial killer gang, not mere accidents.
The theory of the 20-year veteran of the New York City Police department and his longtime partner, Anthony Duarte, is at the center of an Oxygen docuseries titled “Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice.”
The drowned men that Gannon and Duarte call "victims" were all young, athletic and academic achievers. They were all reportedly found dead after a night out drinking. They started appearing in clusters across the country starting 1997. A graffiti of a smiley face was reportedly found near the bodies, and nine of them were drawn with horns, The Telegraph previously reported.
The publication added the claim particularly caused alarm in the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, where 19 of the deaths occurred.
Kevin Gannon (right) is participating in a new Oxygen docuseries about his Smiley Face Killers theory. (Anton Floquet)
“Back in 2003 I saw there was like 30 or 40 new cases across the country,” claimed Gannon. “I said, ‘Wow, there can’t be that many cases.’ I started really looking at it and I got my partner Anthony. At that point, we started traveling around the country and looking at these cases independently."
The Oxygen special focuses on the drowning of Dakota James, whose body was recovered from the Ohio River on March 6, 2017, nearly six weeks after he went out drinking with co-workers. The last known sighting of the Duquesne University graduate student was caught on a surveillance camera. The footage captured James entering a dark alley.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the 23-year-old had drowned and his death was ruled an accident by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office, which was a determination strongly disputed by his parents.
Three years earlier, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported, another Duquesne graduate, 22-year-old Paul Kochu, had vanished after a night out drinking with friends and found dead months later floating 85 miles downriver in Wheeling, W.Va. The West Virginia Medical Examiner ruled Kochu’s death as undetermined.
(Image courtesy of 44 Blue Productions/Oxygen Media)
The Gazette noted that in December 2018, Gannon and forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht held a press conference to report that an independent examination on James’ autopsy photos indicated he may have been strangled. Gannon and Wecht said they discovered the appearance of ligature marks, which were inconsistent with a drowning death.
Gannon claimed James’ death was no accident. In fact, he told Oxygen he and Duarte believe there’s a “well-structured, organized gang with cells in major cities across the United States who drug, abduct, hold the victims for a period of time before they murder them and then place them in the water.”
“We look at these young men as being the best of the best as far as we’re concerned,” said Gannon. “They’re the best athletes, and all of them are affluent. They come from the best families. Anthony said years ago that [these killers] could have been envious, jealous of these kids. They had something they didn’t have. That’s a possibility. But also, if you know anything about domestic terrorism, about these gangs in general, is that when you have nothing you have nothing to lose. That’s where terrorism actually begins.”
The documentary also revealed a smiley face was found spray-painted on an underpass near where James’ body was discovered.
Gannon also pointed out that when James was found by police, his body experienced minimal deterioration, despite being missing for 40 days. Still, the Pittsburgh police theorized James fell into the river while crossing a bridge near the city center and drowned. It is believed James’ body traveled for almost 10 miles and even went through a dam before its discovery.
But not everyone agrees with Gannon’s theory. Over the years, it has been slammed by experts due to reported lack of evidence. Some say it’s nothing more than folklore.
“Over the past several years, law enforcement and the FBI have received information about young, college-aged men who were found deceased in rivers in the Midwest,” said the FBI in a 2008 press release. “The FBI has reviewed the information about the victims provided by two retired police detectives, who have dubbed these incidents the ‘Smiley Face Murders,’ and interviewed an individual who provided information to the detectives.
“To date, we have not developed any evidence to support links between these tragic deaths or any evidence substantiating the theory that these deaths are the work of a serial killer or killers. The vast majority of these instances appear to be alcohol-related drownings. The FBI will continue to work with the local police in the affected areas to provide support as requested.”
In 2010, the Center for Homicide Research also published a lengthy report debunking the Smiley Face Killers theory.
Gannon said he isn’t fazed by the criticism. In fact, The Daily Beast reported he has mortgaged his home and maxed out his credit cards trying to solve these cases. The publication added that the only thing that stopped him for 18 months was a bout with cancer in 2004.
“I know there was some homicide group that said we didn’t know what we were talking about, but I never saw one piece of forensic evidence in that group to disprove us,” said Gannon. “All they did was take articles from the news media and linked them together as a paper. Any kid in high school could write that paper. That’s not a comprehensive paper.”
“People have their own opinions,” he added. “That was one of the reasons we wrote a forensic textbook to provide homicides. … if we were wrong about these cases being homicides, we wanted to know for sure. Nobody ever came to us to show us that they missed this critical piece of evidence in these cases that were homicides.”
The Daily Beast added that some change did come from questioning these cases. Chris Jenkins, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota student, vanished after leaving a Minneapolis bar in 2002. His body was found floating in the Mississippi River on his back with his arms crossed across his chest four months later. The site noted that while Jenkins’ death was initially classified as an accidental drowning, police later agreed to change it to homicide in 2006.
James' parents participated in the Oxygen show to set the record straight about their son. They previously launched a nonprofit organization to help other families in similar situations.
“He worked full-time, lived on his own, and was attending college full-time to earn his master’s degree in a city he loved,” they wrote. “He was very active in swimming, running, biking and loved music and dancing. He enjoyed life to the fullest and trusted everyone. His future plans included attending law school, traveling, getting married and starting a family.
“… We struggled on a daily basis trying to find answers-running into red tape and contradicting policies of local agencies and unresponsive authority figures. We did not know where to turn for help. We want to make changes so that this doesn’t happen to the next family of a missing person.”
Gannon added the Oxygen show will allow viewers to see and judge for themselves. But his goal is to help find answers for grieving family members still wondering what led to such a tragic demise.
“We thought, you know what, let’s put out what we have in the court of public opinion,” he said. “And if the people don’t think there is anything here, then you know, that’s it. But… a lot of experts are going to come up on this show. … And we want them to look at [these cases].”
50 years later, Wecht continues to poke holes in report on JFK assassination
• Oswald was given a nitrate test on the night after the shooting. Results showed he had not fired a rifle recently.
• Julia Ann Mercer, caught in traffic on Elm Street, saw a man get out of a truck and carry a rifle up the grassy knoll. She later identified the driver to the FBI as Jack Ruby.
• More than 500 photos were taken by 75 photographers in Dealey Plaza in the hour before, during and after the shooting. The Warren Commission examined 26 photos the FBI examined 50.
• Sixteen of the 20 Dallas sheriff's deputies in Dealey Plaza believed shots came from the knoll and ran in that direction.
• Connally's clothes were dry cleaned, destroying evidence.
• Oswald's mother insisted that he was an intelligence agent.
• There was more metalin Connally's body than was missing from Commission Exhibit 399, which is known as the "magic bullet." Connally died in 1993.
• Kennedy's brain is missing from the National Archives.
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They were born a year apart to Jewish immigrants in rural towns as the Great Depression took hold.
Both served in the Air Force during the Cold War, studied law, went into politics. They nearly served together in the Senate. They wrote books and fought public battles.
Yet 3 centimeters of copper-jacketed lead forever separated Dr. Cyril Wecht of Squirrel Hill and the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Philadelphia.
When gunfire in Dallas 50 years ago this Friday ended the life of President John F. Kennedy, Wecht and Specter were on different professional trajectories.
“What I've done and who I am, in Pittsburgh, for better or worse, I don't think you can link to JFK,” said Wecht, 82, a forensic pathologist who was elected Allegheny County coroner and county commissioner around a decades-long medical-legal consultant business.
Exhibit 399 — the single bullet — made Wecht and Specter national names.
As a junior attorney for the Warren Commission, Specter developed the single-bullet theory of the assassination. He concluded the 161-grain slug fired by Lee Harvey Oswald entered and exited the bodies of Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally a combined seven times as the president's convertible rolled through Dealey Plaza.
“It began as a theory, but when a theory is established by the facts, it deserves to be called a conclusion,” Specter wrote in his 2000 book, “Passion for Truth.”
Wecht poked holes in the commission's findings during a 1965 meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. He has spent 48 years explaining how Specter's “conclusion” fails, and with it the commission's finding that Oswald acted alone in Dallas.
“It was an American conspiracy,” Wecht said. “It was a coup d'etat.”
On a recent October night in Oakmont, about 240 people pay $10 each to hear Wecht discuss the case.
Wecht's voice starts low with a clinical tone. He then starts pacing and describing the president's horrifying wounds in a louder, staccato style. Halfway through his description of a botched autopsy in Bethesda Naval Hospital, he is yelling.
“How does it grab you as an American citizen?” he asks the crowd that had just heard that two Navy doctors called to examine the leader of the free world had never performed a bullet-wound autopsy.
The crowd gasps upon seeing frame 313 of bystander Abraham Zapruder's film of the assassination. They murmur when Wecht mentions “a fairly young attorney, a junior legal counsel for the Warren Commission, Arlen Specter.”
They ask, given the evidence he just described, how anyone can believe the commission's findings.
“It's impossible to explain,” Wecht said.
“If they heard him talk, everybody would know the truth,” said Jannie Saxon, 48, of Oakmont, one of dozens who asked Wecht to sign their books after the speech.
Wecht said he did not set out to become famous for this case. A series of consultations led to what he called an “unplanned launching pad.”
Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi called Wecht to consult on slain Sen. Robert Kennedy's autopsy in 1968. Work on other famous cases followed.
Back home, Wecht started his first term as coroner. When he got access to evidence at the National Archives in 1972 and found the president's brain was missing, a front-page article in The New York Times introduced him to America. So did Geraldo Rivera, who invited Wecht to appear on TV with him for an airing of the Zapruder film. Then came testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
“I was always into politics,” Wecht said recently in his Strip District office, where a wall contains a half-dozen photos of the Kennedy brothers. “But on a national level, it's certainly possible that I began to get these cases because of the name, the attention.”
After losing a Senate race to John Heinz in 1982, Wecht stayed active in Democratic politics and returned to the coroner's office from 1995 until 2006. Federal investigators accused and later dropped charges alleging he used his elected office to conduct his high-profile consulting career.
“He bucked the system and paid for it,” said longtime Warren Commission critic Robert J. Groden, who like Wecht served as an adviser on Oliver Stone's 1991 controversial film, “JFK.”
Specter was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia when Howard Willens, Robert Kennedy's deputy at the Justice Department, asked him to work for the Warren Commission. Specter said he initally balked at the request because he was fighting the Teamsters in City Hall and considering a run for state Senate. His friends urged him to join.
In his book, Specter described missteps by the commission, the ways politics and Chief Justice Earl Warren pushed members to cut corners, and a few outright mistakes — such as the commission's failure to review autopsy photos and X-rays.
He defended the commission's conclusion, though.
In his book, he said he nearly sued Stone for libel because of the movie.
Fifty years later, the debate has not abated.
Last month, about 500 people gathered at Duquesne University for a JFK symposium sponsored by the university's Institute of Forensic Science and Law, which is named for Wecht. Appearances by Stone and a doctor who tended to Kennedy brought national attention.
People sneered when they mentioned Specter's name or the single-bullet theory.
Across the state, the Single Bullet exhibit opened on Oct. 21. It's the first exhibition in Philadelphia University's Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy. Willens, the former Kennedy aide, delivered a speech.
The center's coordinator, Karen Albert, said he was looking forward to defending his conclusion on the 50th anniversary.
Wecht said he endorsed Specter for Senate in 2004, the only time he supported a Republican.
They joined for a few public debates on the bullet and the commission. But Wecht said they never discussed their differences in private.
“I wasn't going to convince him,” Wecht said. “He wasn't going to convince me.”
David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or [email protected]
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Dr. Cyril Wecht on JFK’s Murder: A “Coup d’état in America”
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in the streets of Dallas in broad daylight. According to the Warren Commission (1964), the government’s first official investigative panel into the president’s death, JFK was shot by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald from the 6th floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building with an Italian Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. The Commission concluded that Oswald fired three shots: one that missed (the Commission said it was inconclusive which of the shots missed), one that hit both Kennedy and Governor John Connally (the “magic bullet”), and the final shot that hit Kennedy in the head.
The “magic bullet” is so named because it followed what seems to be an extraordinary trajectory: it penetrated JFK’s back, exited the throat, then proceeded to hit Connally (who was sitting in front of Kennedy), passing through his back, hitting a rib, exiting his chest, hitting his right wrist, and finally hitting his left thigh, leaving behind a small fragment seven millimeters beneath the skin. What was presumably this same bullet was later found on a stretcher in nearly undamaged condition.
The later House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) contradicted the Warren Commission by concluding that JFK’s death was probably the result of a conspiracy involving two shooters. Today, however, most newsmedia and government figures publicly accept the findings of the Warren Commission, even though polling consistently shows that the vast majority of Americans have serious doubts about its conclusions.
Dr. Cyril Wecht, for two decades the elected coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (including Pittsburgh), is a nationally acclaimed forensic pathologist, and holds both a medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1956), and a law degree from the University of Maryland (1962). Forensic pathologists specialize in medically determining how and why someone died. In criminal murder cases this function is absolutely vital in helping to determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect — in no case more so than in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Dr. Wecht, a very early critic of the Warren Commission, testified at the HSCA. At the annual JFK Lancer assassination research conference in Dallas, held in November, Dr. Wecht summarized the medical evidence against the lone-gunman hypothesis.
At the center of Dr. Wecht’s examination is what has become known as the “single-bullet theory” — or the “magic bullet,” as it is known to its detractors: the theory that one bullet can account for the multiple wounds (besides the headshot) of both JFK and Governor Connally. According to Dr. Wecht, the conclusions of the Warren Commission rest entirely on the single-bullet theory. If that theory fails, then there had to be more than one gunman. This, in turn, leads to questions about the history of the United States since 1963 that many people would rather not pursue.
With both passion and meticulous attention to detail, Wecht dissects the Warren Commission’s conclusions. Moving beyond the medical evidence, he then utters words unexpected from any former American elected official, and particularly powerful coming from a person with his credentials: “What we witnessed…my friends, in plain, plain English — was [a] coup d’état in America. The overthrow of the government. That’s what this case was all about.”
At a time when America again faces extraordinary political turbulence, what happened more than half a century ago takes on renewed significance.
As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.
Full Text Transcript:
Under the single bullet theory, approximately a second to a second and a half, has elapsed, and Governor Connally under the definition of the single bullet theory, has been hit through the chest, through the wrist, the bone has been shattered, the radial nerve that permits the thumb to hold things in apposition has been almost completely severed. The bullet’s gone into the left thigh, and there he sits, continuing to hold the hat and to look forward. A remarkable accomplishment, one of the most incomplete, superficial, inadequate, inept, forensic pathologically incompetent medical legal autopsies I’ve ever seen.
Debra Conway: I want to honor you, Cyril. We all want to honor you. And It is a privilege to have you here. Thank you for coming so much in joining us. I tell you what. You want to get high? Go on YouTube and find Cyril Wecht talking about the single bullet theory. It is a high. I will Google him and show people, and we have a clip of him actually demonstrating that, at a trial. And I wish it would work, but anyway. My husband is probably Cyril’s biggest fan though they only met tonight, but he’s watched Concussion probably 758 times, and every time he’ll tell people, “My wife knows him.” But you know when you talk about bravery, this is a cliché, but you know what, you look in the dictionary and you’re going to see this man right here. And not just about the Kennedy assassination. He’s fought for life for people. He’s explained death for juries.
He’s shown us, more than anybody else that I can think of, that there is a truth in death, that there is a truth in how you die. That’s pretty comforting that your body is evidence in a way that we never understood before. Now it’s in every movie. Crime scene evidence. My own sister is a crime scene expert. But guess who was the pioneer? Our pioneer. And you know, he could have run screaming from the Kennedy assassination. He didn’t need this, but I think he recognized kindred spirits, and this is what I’m telling you, is that you have power as a community, as a group, you have power. And this guy is the accelerator. You push on that accelerator and your power is exposed. He is an accelerator for us. Cyril, I just can’t even tell you. I wish Mary was here. This award is in her name. I appreciate you honoring her by accepting the award and I absolutely don’t even know what else to say. So let’s just let him have the microphone.
Cyril Wecht: It’s a pleasure to be here and I am humbled by this award. I want to thank Debra Conway for the magnificent job that she has done in organizing this group that she designated as Lancer, bringing people together in these annual conferences with ongoing programs in between, to holding people together and to constantly keeping our minds and eyes and attention on the distant horizon and to helping us to keep our faith that one day we shall bring this matter to full disclosure and ultimate veracity and fruition. Debra has done a fantastic job and I thank her very much and for her gracious invitation to be here with you folks, and of course for this wonderful award which I did not know about.
Somehow Debra, it makes it more wonderful. I got a note from Debra’s co-editor. Debra, I’ll talk about this in a moment briefly, Debra’s co-editor of our CAPA newsletter with Bill Kelly, and Bill wrote me some stuff just about our next newsletter, having nothing to do with the conferences here but, and he said something about an award. And I was going through the material he sent me, making some changes and corrections and so on, and I wrote in parentheses, “Are you sure about this?” And then I heard more earlier today from my colleagues in CAPA. Well anyway, however it happened, it made it that much more magnificent. I just want to briefly say that this new organization, Citizens Against Political Assassinations, CAPA, the acronym of course, has been founded I think in this year toward the end of last year, and we are looking for people to join.
This is not in competition with any existing organization rather we are looking to existing organizations such as Lancer and all the other groups that are dedicated and to achieving this ultimate goal for which we have fought so valiantly over the decades. But it is an organization which will be focusing on the political assassinations, but for right now JFK. In 1992, the United States Congress passed the JFK Records Act calling for the release of all the sequestered JFK materials in the tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of pages. I don’t think anybody really knows what is all there, for those to be released in 25 years. That will be October 2017. We are focused on that. So we need your input. We have the membership forms out there and we invite you to join to become active members, and to tell us what committee you might like to be on, and give us your expertise, your knowledge, your courage, your strength, and your hard work, your productivity.
As I said, Debra has been working very hard on this, and we’re delighted that she is now the co-editor of our newsletter. I’m sorry that we somehow got messed up on not bringing the first newsletter but we can make those available directly or through Debra. That’s not a big problem, but we’ll be in touch on that. But do keep that in mind, CAPA. And I want to stress the fact this is not in any way a competing organization. It is all of us together, focused specifically on right now the release of those records. We’re going to deal with Robert Kennedy. We’re going to deal with Martin Luther King. We’re going to deal with other matters, but this is our primary attention.
So let’s talk about JFK. I do have it, okay. I wanted to give you a chance to see all those other books too. By the way, and I’m not here to hustle books, but if any of you, I did want to remind anyone interested in the JonBenet Ramsey case, I published, I published… I wrote that book that was published with Charles Bosworth, who’s now become a good friend, he’s an excellent professional writer and a very professional person in his own field of… He was a former newspaper reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and now with a major industrial company handling the PR. So Charlie and I wrote that book in 1998, Who Killed JonBenet Ramsey. And I was delighted earlier this year –- so what is that, 1998? 18 years later -– to see this plethora of TV programs. I think there were four hours on CBS. Dr. Phil had a couple of our programs and so on. So anyone who’s interested, the book is being republished. It’s already out in e-form. We’re told it’s Amazon Kindle number two. It’s in audio form and in one week it will be in printed form. Who Killed JonBenet Ramsey. So anyone who’s interested in that, and while this is not a political conspiracy, it does involve political shenanigans. And not at the level of what we are addressing, but it shows you how politics get involved in this kind of case. In Elvis Presley, and Chandra Levy, and so many others. It’s fascinating just to think about that.
When I talk generally about all my cases touching upon all of them, I didn’t set out this way and I came to realize after a while that there was in most, not necessarily all, but in most a political common denominator. Ron Brown, Secretary of Commerce. Vincent Foster, White House legal counsel. And then these other cases too, and how they get manipulated by the politicians, by some governmental agency. Again, I’m not equating this with what we are dealing with here tonight, but I want to, the thought just came to me right now.
I don’t even know if I’ve mentioned this before, but the point I wish to make is, you know we’re very smug. We’re very chauvinistic. We’re very arrogant as Americans. It’s one thing to be proud of who we are. It’s another thing not to recognize that we have in our government, and it’s not Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative. We have in our government many of the same things that go on in other countries of the world. They’re not as blatant. They’re not as vile and vicious. They’re not as obvious. They’re not picking people up off the street and throwing them in the concentration camps, or just killing them and so on. But in terms of what the government can do, in terms of the manipulation, in terms of the lies, the deceit, the cover-ups, they’re there and they’re not necessarily limited to major political assassinations at the national level. Just something to keep in mind.
My wife and I just came back from China. I’ve been to China three times before. My very dear friend and personal professional colleague, Dr. Henry C. Lee, he was honored by the Dr. Henry C. Lee Museum of Forensic Science, the first forensic science museum in the world. It’s established in Rugao, China, a city, small Chinese city, just about a million or so, about three hours north of Shanghai, and that’s where Henry was born and raised in the first few years. And I was invited to be one of the speakers there and I was highly honored and we had a magnificent time with top level officials there. And seeing the Chinese government and the people in the way they work, and the changes that have occurred since 1980, and had the opportunity to be in Russia, many other countries and so on, I can’t help but think that we have to be very much aware of what’s going on.
And nowhere is this more important nowhere is it more identifiable than in the JFK assassination.
Our president gunned down right here in the streets of this great American city in broad daylight. And to this day, 53 years later, the government is still covering up. Yes, Gary correctly identified our opponents. Ah, nothing to be worried about, just The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and all the other major news media. Just the federal government across the board. And then of course all of the, what did you call them, Gary? Debunkers? Was that your word? Um, a formidable array indeed.
Just give you a recent example. David Talbot, one of us, a major scholar, author, esteemed respected individual, wrote a magnificent book, if you haven’t read it, The Devil’s Chessboard, David Talbot. And The New York Times, when his publisher, when his agent called in to The New York Times, they told him boldly, blatantly, unabashedly, “We are not going to review this book! It’s that goddamn simple!” I stopped writing letters to the editor when they’ll have some article on JFK. There’ll be no coverage. There’ve been great conferences here over the years. We’ve had two major conferences in Pittsburgh, the Cyril Wecht Institute of Forensics and Law at Duquesne University, 2003 and 2013. No coverage at all whatsoever from The New York Times. This indeed is a formidable enemy, but Gary made one error, or a reference which is not quite correct in talking about wrong and right, black and white, and up and down and the other metaphors that he used. He referred to the majority. My friends, we are the majority! We are the majority. Not because I say this to make myself feel good and to seek obsequiously your solicitation and support, and applause, but I want you to know the hard facts. And you do know them. But remind yourselves of that and don’t hesitate the next time somebody comes up, the debunker or whatever the hell he is, the Warren Commission sycophant defender, self-appointed person, and gives you that business, “Oh you’re one of those conspiratorialists.” Screw you, buddy! 65 to 85% of the American public in one poll after another does not accept the Warren Commission report. Who is the majority?
I ask you this. You name me, think about this, and when you go home and you go the rest of the weekend doing whatever, you think of what other major concept, endeavor, entity, philosophical, political, governmental, you think of something out there which has had the support of 2/3 to 3/4 of the American public on a continuous basis, now, for four into five decades, which has not been ultimately accepted, which has not been moved into the place of primacy in whatever that particular field may be, whatever the particular subject may be. It is only this. It is only this, JFK, which they dare not touch. They are in a very difficult position, extremely difficult. And we are in an even more difficult position. Not precarious, not dangerous, but difficult because of the formidable odds we face.
So let’s just talk about the JFK assassination and refresh ourselves a little bit. You all know of course the background, and JFK coming to Dallas in 1963, political barnstorming. He was asked, he was advised, he was warned, he was urged not to go. Adlai Stevenson, twice Democratic nominee for the presidency of the United States of America, a magnificent individual, whether you voted or liked him or not, but I mean highly respected in every way, our UN ambassador, he was physically spat upon and jostled in the streets of this city, just a couple of weeks or so before Kennedy came. Kennedy’s people were fearful. I don’t think that they were thinking about assassination. I have no reason to suggest that. But they didn’t want an ugly scene.
Well, as it turned out, it was going to be a beautiful setting and scene. As the plane landed coming over from Fort Worth to Love Field, and the motorcade lined up and they moved into the city toward Dealey Plaza, the sun began to shine. The flags were flying. The crowds were cheering. The sun was shining. It was beautiful. And the last words that were ever directly and personally spoken to President Kennedy, Nellie Connally, sitting in front of Jackie Kennedy with her husband to her right, and Jackie Kennedy behind her, and the president behind the governor. Nellie Connally turned, as I’m turning now and said, “Mr. President, you can’t say that the people of Texas don’t love you.” Those were the last words that were spoken to John Kennedy. At 12:30 your time, as the cars then turned from Houston onto Elm, shots rang out, the president is hit, then Connally is hit, then Kennedy is hit again.
So here you have the layout. You know all that by memory. You’ve traversed it I’m sure many times in the past as I did again today with my colleague, Andrew Kreig, and walked around there in the parking area, and the picket fence, and the whole scene, and the huge crowds. I did an hour and a half interview, by the way, with the museum, and it’s now in the archives. The new archivist, new curator, Steve Fagan, whom I met for the first time, he invited me. Very nice gentleman, and it was a pleasure to meet him and to have this done, and to see him in place of the person who preceded him, who had once been one of us and who turned out to be a Benedict Arnold, the traitor, to put it mildly. So anybody has time, you can go there and watch it.
So, we see that, and you know the whole pergola, the whole layout. Okay, another shot, the 6 th floor southeast corner window. Another close-up of that. And then here is some pieces from the Zapruder film. Watch it, watch it, watch it carefully. Just keep your eyes focused as the cars go behind and then come out from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign.
Here it is in slow motion. I want you to pay special attention to the relationship, physically of the president and the governor. Is that coming through? Look. And then I want you to see, the president was hit, moving violently backward and to the left.
There is a shot showing you how they sat and how they looked. And make note nothing different. You’ve seen political parades. I have, since I was a little boy in Pittsburgh. And Veterans Day, they used to have, they still do have, parades. Used to be called Armistice Day. And other major parades. And the local politicians. And just as here, the national politicians, you’re looking and waving at the crowd. Keep that in mind and I’ll touch upon that later. Okay, now here you see some shots and they come out from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign. And what I want to show you here is as we get closer and closer, I want you to see and pay special attention please, look at this shot. Notice…
Do I have a pointer here? Top button? Very good.
Notice the position of John Connally’s white Stetson hat. Please notice that, and look at his face. One more? No. Okay, look at his face. At this point in time under the single bullet theory, which Mark Lane and I and many others dubbed a long time ago, the magic bullet theory, this man has been shot through the chest, the lung has been pierced, 4 inches of the right fifth rib have been destroyed, the radius just above wrist level has been shattered, a comminuted fracture. Not a linear nondisplaced fracture. Comminuted, which means fragmented fracture. Bullet has reentered into his left thigh. Pretty tough guy. Pretty goddamn tough Texan, okay. I’m sorry I didn’t vote for him for president. Well, I couldn’t. I’m a Democrat and he was running in the Republican primary. But you keep that in mind.
Audience: Delayed reaction, sir.
Cyril: Delayed reaction… All right. Here, I want you to see this now. Here, now watch. We’re going into frame three, there’s a crimson burst, literally the explosion of the president’s head. And I want you to watch in the subsequent frames the movement of the president’s body. Backward, leftward, backward, leftward, backward. So much so that the motorcycle officer riding behind the president’s left rear wheel was certain for several seconds that he had been shot. He was covered with blood and brain tissue and other pieces of calvarium parts of the skull that struck him, all hitting in that direction.
Now what you’re looking at is the official diagram of the president, made by the pathologist at Bethesda. But let’s step back before we get to Bethesda. The cars are sped quickly to Parkland Hospital, the major trauma center. Some 18 physicians came there in a matter of minutes, many already assembled. Others drifting in as quickly as possible. And you should know this then, that 18 physicians included among whom was the chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, Kemp Clark, a renowned neurosurgeon. How many brains he had operated on? In the thousands, undoubtedly. When the surgeons said to him, “Dr. Clark.” They probably called him Kemp. “Please assess this man.” His words, immortalized, were, “There is nothing that can be done to save this man.” And what did Clark see? And what did the other physicians see? Trauma surgeons who had seen people with head injuries, who were medical people, who had studied the brain.
But let’s talk about Clark and focus on him as a neurosurgeon and at that time, and his chief resident, Robert Grossman, who went on to become chief at Baylor, where my son, my second oldest son, trained for six years as a neurosurgeon some years ago. What did these two men see and say, and the others also? Every one of them! The rear part of the calvarium, the top part of your skull, the bony part called calvarium, the rear part of the occipital area, this is frontal forehead, temporal around the ears, occipital in the back and parietal on the top in between the others, okay. They talked about and described fractures of the occipital part of the calvarium. They talked about destructive damage blowing out of the cerebellum. The cerebellum, that part of the brain separate from the two cerebral hemispheres located posteriorly and inferiorly, as back and down at the bottom of your brain handling coordination and balance normally for us, they all described that, okay. Those are the descriptions made by those doctors.
Now at that point in time nobody knew Oswald, nobody knew Russia, nobody knew a goddamn thing. They were just doctors dealing with an injured person. Yes, he was the president, but nobody had any reason to do anything other than note that which was present. That’s all. Their innocence, they are people untarnished, uninfluenced at that point in time. What did they see? In Parkland here in Dallas, they saw a wound in front of the neck, and they saw then a big defect on the skull as I have described to you. There then ensued a very ugly situation. The local medical examiner, Dr. Earl Rose, who was a contemporary of mine, I had met Dr. Rose when I was in the Air Force and he was stationed elsewhere. And we were at the Armed Forces Institute for Forensic Pathology seminar. They used to have these seminars, symposiums, and I met Dr. Rose, and he was there to assume jurisdiction which is exactly what was supposed to have been done. Earl Rose was slammed up against the wall by the Feds, hands on guns, profanity threatened, and they took the body of the president illegally out of the city in violation of the laws of the city and county, and those of the state of Texas.
Well, here is the retrospective irony. That illegal act, as vile as it was, should have been used to the benefit of the government and all of us. Why? It gave them seven hours to put into place the number one team of forensic pathologists to do this autopsy, and all the time there’s no rush, there’s no hurry. Dr. Milton Helpern, the chief medical examiner of New York City, who was the dean of forensic pathologists in America at that time, he was packing his bag. I know this from Milton, we talked about this. He was packing his bag, not because he was an arrogant, conceited man, but he knew, he was head honcho, and he called two or three other forensic pathologists and asked them if they would be available to go and assist him. Just was no question that he would be called in to do this autopsy. Our president, right? Not you, not me, not your neighbor. Our president, multiple gunshot wounds. You’ve got to determine angle, range, trajectory, sequence, and then you’ve got to correlate with the wounds in Governor Connally. This is, this is a real bitch. This is tough, baby, I want to tell you. When you get a multiple gunshot wound case and bullets are still inside the body, let alone trying to match it up with other things, animate and inanimate, this is a tough, tough conundrum.
Well, who did they call to do the autopsy at Bethesda that evening? Two career naval pathologists, Humes and Boswell. And you listen to this carefully because I want you to repeat this the next time you talk with somebody who tells you that the Warren Commission report is right. I want you to jam this down his throat and you let him know what he begins with was an evidentiary burden. What he is assuming, you let him know, that Humes and Boswell had never done a single gunshot wound autopsy in their entire careers. Not a single gunshot wound autopsy. I frequently like to toss out a hypothetical analogy, an analogous situation. Let us say that the president that day, when getting out of the shower, slipped and fell, and struck his head. And he obviously had a concussion. He was dazed and they had to determine whether or not there was anything there of a significant nature and so on. Under my hypothetical, hypothetical, how would you have felt as non-medical people if they had called in an obstetrician, a dermatologist, and a plastic surgeon to evaluate the president? Huh, okay?
I want to tell you something. I had four long good years of residency in pathology, two at the VA hospital in Pittsburgh under a top guy, two in the Air Force at the largest Air Force Base in the country. Four years. And when I finished four years, I didn’t know a goddamn thing about forensic pathology. I had never seen a single traumatic case except one airplane crash over Gunter Air Force Base, on the other side of Montgomery, Alabama. But I knew nothing about it. I had never seen a motor-vehicular accident. I had never seen a suicide. I had never seen a homicide. You don’t see these things when you are in pathology, in hospitals, you don’t see these. Those cases go to coroners and medical examiners. These guys had never even seen a single gunshot wound autopsy in their entire careers. What did they see that night?
Am I just being professionally demeaning because I’m offended as a forensic pathologist? Well, let’s see what they did and you decide for yourselves. They claim to have seen and found a separate smaller hole in the back of the head, and then a large blowout on the right side. And they then took off the corselet garment that Kennedy wore because of his World War II back injury, and they found a bullet hole several inches down, about five inches, five and half inches below the mastoid process. And they probed that wound in the back with their finger, a man’s index finger. Felt nothing. They took a metal probe, probed in, felt nothing, heard no metallic sound. Took x-rays, saw nothing. Did the autopsy, took out the lungs, looked in the thoracic cavity and found nothing. Now, I wasn’t there. You weren’t there. But just picture, picture you’re doing an autopsy on the President of the United States of America, and we came to learn, documented, some 33 people were in and out of that autopsy room that night, including four-star admirals and generals, FBI, and Secret Service, and you are there doing an autopsy, and you got a bullet hole, and you can’t find the goddamn bullet.
Well, as they were thinking about changing their underwear, some information came in from the FBI to the FBI here, from Dallas to DC, transmitted to them in Bethesda, that a maintenance man back in Parkland Hospital had to go to the bathroom. He had to urinate. Thank God, because as he was going by the ER and there were stretchers blocking the corridor, he bent down to move the stretcher and lo and behold there was a bullet. Whether it was on the stretcher and fell off, whether it was under the stretcher, you get different stories, but the point is there was this bullet, 6.5 mm copper jacketed lead core, 1 1/4 inch in length, ¼ of an inch in diameter, and there lay this bullet that nobody had seen before.
I’ve often wondered. It’s funny in a way if it weren’t such a serious matter. And I don’t know what would’ve happened if he didn’t have to take a piss then. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know where. Well, I tell you, I do know. You can bet your ass that bullet was going to be found somewhere, that somebody… it was going to be found, okay. Well, that information given to the clowns at Bethesda that evening, while the body’s there, they seized upon it like a drowning man would seize upon a raft and said, “Ah, we know the answer. When the president lay supine on his back and the doctors applied pressure to the front of his chest for cardiac massage, they forced the bullet back out through the same channel and it fell out from his back.”
Well, it doesn’t work that way. See, if you were in Pittsburgh, we have these three large tunnels, I always do this, I don’t know of any tunnels down here. We have three large, long tunnels: Fort Pitt, Liberty and Squirrel Hill tunnels. I love to tell my audiences around there when I’m talking about JFK, which I did as recently as last night. I say, just picture yourself, folks, going into the Liberty tunnels and you decide when you’re in there, that you’re going in the wrong direction. So you put your car in reverse and you back out. Well, bullets don’t work that way. When the bullet slams into you, it produces hemorrhage, it produces immediate swelling of the tissues, edema, it becomes encased, engorged and held in place by fibrous tissue, whatever the tissue may be. They don’t move around and they sure as hell don’t go in and come back out through an open channel. It doesn’t work that way. But this is what they decided. This was a report that they turned in to the President and Hoover that night, Friday, November 22, 1963.
The next morning, they finally got around to speaking with the chief surgeon in Dallas and what did they learn? What did I tell you a few minutes ago? I know, it’s late in the evening, you’ve been here all day, you’re tired. How about the bullet hole in the front of the neck? Did I mention anything about that having been noted by the pathologists at Bethesda? Take a look at the person sitting next to you. Do you think that you would have to go four years of college, pre-med, four years of medical school and six years of pathology to see that the guy or the woman sitting next to you has blood coming out of an open hole in the front of his neck? What do you think? What do you think? You think you want to spend fourteen years to learn how to recognize that? Well, how could they have missed it?
Because the doctors at Parkland, in looking at the bullet wound that they saw, noted immediately that it had ripped through the trachea. When you have brain injury from stroke or hemorrhage, whatever and trauma and the brain’s not functioning, the brain is the boss. Ladies, forget Valentine’s Day and the heart in February, that’s sheer nonsense, okay. The brain is the boss. You got to take over the brain’s function. You got to take out CO2, you got to put in oxygen, you got to suction out blood and mucus in order to try to work on the wounds. In this case, it wouldn’t have made any difference, but that’s what you got to try to do. And so the doctors at Dallas had quite appropriately and correctly expanded that because the hole was too small to attach the cuff from the respirator machine, so they enlarged upon it.
These guys that did the autopsy that night, as totally inexperienced as they were and having failed to talk with the surgeons, which you always do as a coroner medical examiner forensic pathologist. When you have somebody who’s been shot or stabbed and been operated upon, you want to talk to the surgeons if at all possible, if time permits and they are available and they sure as hell would have been available and time permitted, in this case to ask them what they did. Because invariably, the surgeons will go through a gunshot wound or a stab wound. They want to get to the seat, to the etiology of the hemorrhage of the damage, of the trauma to the internal organs and tissues. And so you want to find out from them what they did, but they failed to do that. Now it’s Saturday morning and they learned about this tracheostomy and they learned that they missed a bullet hole. How do you handle that? What do you do?
I’ll tell you what you do. If you’re Asian, you commit suicide. You do, you do, believe me, believe me, I know, I know. And if you’re European, you resign and you go into seclusion. If you’re American, you just bullshit your way out of it. That’s the way. Everything’s in place. Oswald has been conveniently dispatched by Jack Ruby and we’re told in the Warren Commission by the way, that Jack Ruby just happened to be in the area sending some money to a former stripper of his through Western Union. Jack Ruby was this wonderful, gracious, generous human being. Of course it turns out he was Mafia from the age of 17, little Jacob Rubenstein in Chicago. Mafia.
Now, it is a matter of documented record. He was led into the basement by a high ranking police official. So, Oswald is gone and Monday, November 25, J. Edgar Hoover is already announcing to the world that the case is over. Lee Harvey Oswald is the sole assassin. He knows! I would be willing to wager you that the next time there is a murder in your community, wherever you are from, wherever city unless it’s something that is done in the open and there’s no question, people saw it but if there’s any murder in which they have to look around and question people, and so on and so forth, I’ll make a wager with any of you that you will not get a pronouncement from your local law enforcement agency whether you’re from East Podunkville or West Overshoe, I don’t care where you’re from. You will not get a public statement from them in 48 hours… in 72 hours saying that the case is over.
But J. Edgar Hoover, he already knew by Monday that nobody else was involved but Oswald. How the hell can you know that? You got a man that you have quickly ascertained, has spent two and a half years in Russia, has married the niece of a KGB colonel and that background and everything, but you know that nobody else was involved? No matter what we believe today, no matter what we know, no matter even the people who believe in the Warren Commission report, is there anybody here, anybody that you know who would be willing to say “Hey man, there’s no question that they were able to arrive at that conclusion by Monday”? How in the world? Goes to show you, my friends, what was involved here. How the game was being played and keep these things in mind.
Okay, so this is the sketch of the President their official drawing at Bethesda. There’s the famous death stare. That’s just showing a fragment, I want to move on. This is the diagram of Connally. Now, look please, look. There is the original entrance, right posterior axillary, which means in simple terms, behind the right armpit. Here is the exit wound, here is the re-entrance wound in the wrist, here is the re-exit wound on the front of the wrist and here’s the final resting place in the thigh.
So, what is the single bullet theory given to us by Arlen Specter, then junior legal counsel, later to become senior US Senator in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania? I don’t say this to dump posthumously on Specter, as a matter of fact, we became quite good friends. I even came out for him in 2004, he asked me if I would support him. He, a Republican, I had been very active in Democratic politics and I did come out for Arlen Specter in 2004 and had a big press conference and I helped him undoubtedly, I think, in his reelection. I did the same thing in 2010, but he lost in the Democratic primary, he had switched parties, so I’m not doing this to dump on Specter, but Specter was the creator of the single bullet theory.
Here’s the setting. They have gotten the murder weapon, a Mannlicher-Carcano, considered by every long gun expert I’ve ever spoken to as the most inferior weapon of its genre developed anywhere in the world. In 1971 or ’72, we had done a medical legal program I put together with the Institute of Legal Medicine in Rome in ’65 and we got along so very well, they invited me to come back and do it again, I think in ’72. They asked me at that time then to speak on the Kennedy assassination because by that time, I had spoken out quite a bit on it. I spoke to this distinguished group, they were all older than I, distinguished professors whom I had met before, these wonderful gentlemen and ladies and when I spoke about the single bullet theory and I spoke about the Mannlicher-Carcano, I saw some of them giggling and looking at each other and so on, I felt so bad. I felt my God, what the hell did you say?
So when it was over, I went to the new director Silvio Merli and I said, “Silvio…” – he spoke good English – I said, “I felt so bad, did I say something that was wrong or insulting in any way?” He says, “No, no you don’t understand. The Mannlicher-Carcano, which had been developed in Italy going into World War II, the Mannlicher-Carcano is considered,” said he, “as an instrument of love, not a weapon of war.” They got the best marksman they could find to see how long it took to shoot this weapon. You shoot, you unload, you reload without allowing for re-aiming and repositioning, without allowing for accuracy, shooting from a platform built in an open field. How long did it take, the best marksman they could find to shoot? 2.3 seconds, okay. Fine, that’s what it is.
But along came something known as the Zapruder film. Abraham Zapruder, a woman’s clothing merchant here in Dallas, he bought a brand new 8mm Bell & Howell camera and he went that day to Dealey Plaza and he stood on the parapet coming down from the pergola, his secretary braced this elderly gentleman’s leg and he started his camera rolling as the cars turned from Houston to come down Elm Street. And that Zapruder film, you all know of course how valuable it is as a piece of evidence, invaluable as it was to the Zapruder family. The FBI and the Bell Howell people examined that film and they all agreed that 18.3 frames move through the camera per second. Now, most of you are old enough but there are some younger people here that don’t know about the old-fashioned films. But those of us who are over 50 remember in high school, you took the film and you threaded it on the metal things, so each one of those things is called a frame, and then turns into a picture. In fact, when you go to an amusement park, I know you must have it here as we do in Pittsburgh and you want to see the old-fashioned films back in the 1910s and early ‘20s, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, who knows what, and you put in your coin or whatever it is and you begin to turn the crank, you’re looking at picture after picture. When you go real fast, you begin to make a movie and that’s of course, how movies are made – the frames.
And they blew these up into large pictures and now knowing that 18.3 frames per second, and you’re studying the assassination of the president. The murder of a human being killed by multiple gunshot wounds and the wounding of another person and you are moving as I did a year and a half later at Life Magazine headquarters with Dr. Josiah “Tink” Thompson, who invited me to come with him to Life Magazine headquarters that they had purchased the Zapruder film from Abraham Zapruder and there I was doing it as they had done a year and half earlier in a room almost the size of this room, in large x-ray view boxes turned up this way and you go from frame to frame, picture to picture and you move 1/18 th of a second from frame to frame.
There’s not a word you can utter, there’s not a thought you can entertain, there’s not a movement you can make 18 times in one second, but you can study the assassination of John F. Kennedy at 1/18 th second intervals. Now, when they did that, they had one hell of a problem because it’s clear that John Connally was struck 1.5 seconds after Kennedy was hit the first time and there’s no disagreement on that. 1.5 seconds, how could that be? How could that be? If it takes the best marksman they could find and Oswald was not known to be such an outstanding marksman by any means, having flunked his test the first time in the US Marines, barely passing score the second time around, his colleagues and friends with whom he hunted a little bit in Russia and elsewhere said that he was nothing at all when it came to shooting, how could he have done it in 1.5 seconds? And that is what gave birth to the single bullet theory.
There, close your eyes, picture yourself at the table, none of us was there. How do you deal with this seemingly impossible, not only formidable, but seemingly impossible physical incongruity between the timing of the shooting of the Mannlicher-Carcano and the Zapruder film? How do you put them together? And that’s when Arlen Specter said: “Aha, what if one bullet caused all of these wounds? Not the head wounds, forget about the head wounds. What if one bullet went into Kennedy, came out of Kennedy, went into Connally’s chest, out his chest, into Connally’s wrist, out his wrist and into his left thigh?” And that is the single bullet theory, okay.
Here, I’m going to do this. Larry, bring your chair up here. No, we’ll do it right here. Sir, bring your chair over here and sit in front of Mr. Schnapf. Larry Schnapf, by the way, is one of the board of the directors of our CAPA organization, okay. Mr. President and Mr. Governor, two and a half feet, thirty inches between chest and back, here is the single bullet theory. Fired from up there, see that sixth floor, there it is, look at that, up there towards the exit sign. It’s coming from back to front, it’s going from right to left and it’s going from up downward. It comes in, hits Kennedy down here, down below the shoulder about five inches and exits from the front of his neck it’s an eleven-and-a-half-degree upward angle!
You know how my colleagues in the Forensic Pathology Panel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations handled that? They said, well what if Kennedy were bent over like this? I said yeah, you know what, look at the Zapruder film and you will not find the President tying his shoelace or scratching his groin. That’s not what he was doing! So you got an upward angle of eleven and a half degrees to begin with – no, turn around Mr. Governor – the bullet continues to come downward, forward and leftward. If it had cut Connally over here, maybe we wouldn’t be talking that well, you know… The bullet comes in mid-air, turns about 18 inches and slams into him over here in the right posterior axillary area. Then, it proceeds through his chest, perforates the lung, destroys four inches of the right fifth rib, exits below the nipple level – you saw the diagram.
The Governor, this is your wife’s destiny, governor. This is where the Stetson hat is in the Zapruder film. Don’t do what I tell you. You got eyes. Go and study it yourself! This is where the Stetson hat was. The bullet comes out below nipple level, it comes back up and around and hits him behind the back of the wrist, produces a comminuted fracture of the radius, which by the way is a broad bone. The radius broadens just before it meets the small eight bones of the wrist – it broadens. You’re talking about a six foot four, big boned Texan, John Connally. It produces a comminuted fracture, exits from the front of the wrist, goes down into the left thigh. You like that? That’s the single bullet theory. Thank you, Governor, thank you.
So you see why Mark Lane and I and others call it the magic bullet, because it readily and happily obliges you anything you want. On Friday night of the autopsy, the bullet is from Kennedy’s back. On Saturday morning of November 23, the bullet is from Kennedy’s neck. It saw the starched white color, got frightened to death and just plopped down into his shirt. And then five months later with the Warren Commission, under the single bullet theory, the bullet is now from Connally’s left thigh. You’re with me? That’s 399, that’s the magic bullet.
Understand this my friends the single bullet theory is a sine qua non of the Warren Commission’s Report conclusion vis-à-vis the sole assassin. Without the single bullet theory, you’ve got two people shooting. You cannot have one shooter. Not that all the other things that many of you here today and the other conferences that have taken place over the years and all the people who’ve done splendid work in investigating every aspect of this case from beginning to end, they are to be praised. I do not denigrate or diminish their work at all. But what I’m saying is you don’t reach that point. Who is Oswald, CIA? You don’t reach that! If you don’t have the single bullet theory, you got two shooters! You got two shooters, you got a conspiracy! Under the laws of every state and the federal government, two of us planning together. I may be the one rapes the girl, but you knew about it and you drove me there and waited for me. You and I, maybe I went in and robbed the bank and you just waited for me. You are a conspirator. When you got conspirators, then you got to open up that door. And once you open up door one, baby, what does it lead to? How many other doors does it open? That is the government’s problem! Do you understand that?
I was asked when I spoke last night in a community outside Pittsburgh by some intelligent people, why can’t they say that there was another shooter? You can’t. You’re pregnant or you’re not pregnant. You got a single bullet theory, and then you can go on. Oh, we can blow up the Warren Commission Report as far as I’m concerned in many other ways but what I’m saying to you is that you don’t even get there unless you have a single bullet theory.
This is a bullet being held up. This is an actual fragment of the bullet. This bullet, in store bought condition weighted 161 grains as it was found to weigh 158.6 grains. A loss of 2.4 grains, mathematically believe me, it is exactly 1.5%. So what we’re told is that the fragments that Connally took to the grave with him, we tried to get those to Attorney General Janet Reno who did try, contacted FBI, not only Connally refused. I spoke with the chief OR nurse, Audrey Bell many years ago. I called her up and she was very nice and gracious and I forget exactly how I got to the questions and she told me that there were several fragments of metal given to her by the surgeons who operated on John Connally, which she turned over to the FBI. So those fragments, and the fragments that he took to the grave in three anatomical locations, we’re told that all of them collectively weighed only 1.5% of the bullet. No way in the world! And then we were told that one of the fragments matched the single bullet 399 to the exclusion of all of the bullets. That has been totally, totally repudiated in this marvelous paper by Dr. Randlich [Editor: J. Forensic Sci. Vol.51 No.4] and others, won’t dwell on that, just take my word for it. This is the trajectory, up and down, okay? Here it is.
[Trying to show something here, slides, but doesn’t work]
Alright, here is the bullet. The bullet, completely pristine. The only deformity: at the base of the bullet from the impact of the firing mechanism. Look at the cone, the nose of the bullet after having struck two large bones, completely intact. This slight indentation is where the FBI took a piece of metal, properly for spectrographic analysis. Completely intact! And I’ve talked to you about the weight of the bullet. Now there was somebody on the Warren Commission, I don’t know who, who said “Hey, let’s do a scientific experiment. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Let’s see what would happen”, and they got three sets of targets. The first set were cotton wadding. You shoot the bullet in the cotton wadding striking nothing, so there’s nothing to impact and deform the bullet. What will the bullet look like just having been fired from the gun? Then they got goat carcasses and they lined them up to break a rib of a goat to simulate Connally’s rib fracture. And then they got human cadavers and lined them up to shoot through the radius to simulate Connally’s radial fracture.
This is their experiment. If God or whoever is in charge of the universe said to me, you got to give up everything you own Wecht on the Kennedy assassination, I mean every everything I mean every letter, I mean every memo, I don’t care. Every article, every book, everything in the world, no matter where it came from, when you got it, everything! I’m going to allow you to keep one thing and one thing only, not a set of things, but one thing. This is what I keep. And it’s not mine! I didn’t create it, I had nothing to with it. This is the government’s! And so, as I like to say to audiences: ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am the prosecutor. You’ve been sitting here patiently for six, seven weeks listening to this case. I don’t want to keep you any longer than necessary.
His Honor will give you instructions, but I do want to just recapitulate some of the highlights. I’ve sat here, as my learned colleague defending the defendant, that guy Oswald over there, and my learned colleague has in deprecating, denigrating fashion made comments about, what he smugly referred to as the magic bullet theory, which we have presented to you of course, and which is very critical to our case. And so I just want to refresh your memories and your minds because you’ve been here so long and let me show you this vital piece of evidence which we the government produced!
And look! If a bullet that goes through cotton – what the hell is going on here? Goddamn government will stop at nothing – alright, I’m not going to use the pointer. If a bullet that goes in the cotton wadding can look like this look at the base, little deformity, right? And a bullet that breaks a rib can look like this, almost looks like a different caliber, it’s the same…deformity, and a bullet that breaks a radius can look like this, is there anybody amongst you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, does anybody have a doubt for one moment? Is there any basis for any hesitation whatsoever that if a bullet that breaks both a rib and a rib can look like this? This is 399, this is the bullet, this is the government’s slide, this is what they got to live with, they go to trial. This is 399! This your goddamn evidence, you did the experiments! This is your rib fracture this is your radius fracture! You’re telling us that the two of them together somehow got back in order to look like this, huh?
Alright, so I’m going to close by telling you how I got started in this very, very quickly. In 1964, I was assistant district attorney medical advisor to the district attorney and I would spend most of my time in the crime lab. Charlie McAnarney became a good friend, head of the crime lab and he said to me one day, he was in the program committee of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists, the largest and most prestigious group of forensic scientists in the world – he said: “Cyril, how would you like to represent the academy in the pathology section? The academy meets every year, the third week of February and each of the sections, pathology, toxicology, psychiatry, criminalistics, odontology, entomology, anthropology, nursing, they all meet separately and then they all have one big plenary session and they try to pick a subject that will be of interest to as many of the groups as possible. As so understandably, going into February of ’65, you’re the program chair, what would you select? The Warren Commission just came out, later September, October of ’64, there’s no question about that. So I said: “Sure Charlie.”
So I went to the Carnegie Library. We have this magnificent library in Pittsburgh and there were the 26 volumes to show you what the government had in mind from the very beginning – 26 volumes, okay? I pick up the books to look at the index, I want to get to the autopsy and the medical stuff, there ain’t no index, baby, there ain’t no index. 26 volumes. Sylvia Meagher, a magnificent woman who wrote this wonderful book Accessories After the Fact, on her own, a single woman living in an apartment in downtown Manhattan working at the UN before computers were ever even dreamed of. Sylvia Meagher put together an index which is still used today, but the federal government, no, no, no index, okay?
So what I want to tell you, friends, as we conclude, is that this is the story, this is the background, you’ve heard from all of these wonderful people, you’ve heard the poignant words that Debra has given to you and others of the challenge that lies ahead. We got to keep fighting this battle. We got to keep in mind what it’s about because, as they quickly ascertained, it wasn’t the Russians, it wasn’t the Chinese, it wasn’t the Cubans. We have met the enemy and he is us.
They quickly realized, they knew what they were dealing with and we have to keep that in mind and people sometimes ask, you know, what does it mean, what is the importance, what is the significance, why should we continue in this very turbulent, controversial battle? Because we are Americans who believe in justice, who believe that governments should not be overthrown because some people in position of authority and power decide to get rid of the ruler and everywhere in the world where this kind of thing has happened, where a prime minister, a king, a premier has been killed, has been assassinated, we in our American arrogance do not hesitate for one moment to label it for what it was. We recognize it as a political assassination, we recognize it as the overthrow of the government and that is what the Kennedy assassination was in this country.
They were looking at five more years of Jacky, followed by eight years of Bobby – thirteen years is a lifetime in the political evolution of a country. This is not where we get into the last quarter of the basketball game or the third period of the hockey game or the ninth inning of the baseball game. Thirteen years, you can make a country move in any goddamn direction that you want to and that is exactly what happened.
Kennedy, in their eyes, doing what he was doing, human rights, civil rights, voting rights, getting out of Vietnam, angered about the Bay of Pigs fiasco, claiming that he would destroy the CIA, ripping up a piece of paper, throwing it into the air when he was meeting with Senator Mike Mansfield and saying “this is what I intend to do to the CIA.” It was running amuck. Its own government, get rid of Arbenz in Guatemala, get rid of Allende in Chile, get rid of the Diem brothers in Vietnam, anything that they wanted, they made the decision what was good for America because those people believe that when they see the flag flying and they hear the Star Spangled Banner, they see and hear something that we average, normal Americans, as loyal as we may be, we just fail to fully understand, to fully recognize what is necessary for America.
That is the arrogance of these people and that is why we must fight to make sure that it never happens again because what we witnessed in what was the assassination of President Kennedy, my friends, in plain, plain English was coup d’état in America, the overthrow of the government. That’s what this case was all about. Thank you.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from screenshots JFK Lancer NIC 2016 (WhoWhatWhy Org / YouTube).
Why Did Feds Persecute Celebrity Expert Cyril Wecht? Who's Next?
Like many government employees, Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh sometimes sent faxes from his office on personal matters. On Feb. 12, 2002, for example, he sent a New Jersey group a bill for a speech.
Four years later, the Justice Department used that fax for one of 84 felony charges against Wecht, thereby forcing his resignation after 20 years. The charges included 27 felonies for sending personal faxes, along with allegations over mileage vouchers, office stationary, permission for students to study autopsies, and requests for staff help.
Nationally, more than 95% of those who are federally accused in the U.S. now plead guilty. But Wecht, widely known as a TV analyst on celebrity deaths, had the means to fight hard to clear his name and stay out of prison.
Dr. Cyril Wecht since the 1970s has been a prominent TV guest expert on celebrity deaths
Court rulings and prosecution errors ended Wecht's ordeal last June. By then, the 78-year-old had spent $8 million on legal fees over three years, putting him $6 million in debt currently. Authorities dropped the majority of charges against him just before trial in 2008. Thus, most of the charges were about 23 faxes, whose total out-of-pocket cost to the county was calculated by the defense as $3.96.
Cases like this are creating bipartisan alarm nationally among legal experts who believe that DoJ increasingly abuses its vast powers. I've seen the change after covering DoJ fulltime as a newspaper reporter from 1976-1980 in DoJ's better days, and now as a researcher of such cases nationally. Wecht and former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman were among panelists at a recent forum on the topic, with video here.
Fear of DoJ abuses was also the theme of a remarkable conference I attended last week hosted by the free-market Cato Institute. A video of speakers is posted here. It's well worth watching.
The conservative Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley introduced two authors of recent books about such problems. A former prosecutor, Blankley said that political leaders from both parties have for years enabled federal prosecutors to use vague laws to target individuals in an arbitrary fashion.
The most detailed evidence came from Boston defense attorney Harvey Silverglate, author of Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent and a congressional witness Sept. 29. His theme: The average U.S. professional unwittingly commits three felonies daily -- thus enabling Feds to pick and choose whom to prosecute, with scant review by courts, defense attorneys and the news media. His book provides compelling case studies illustrated by defendants fighting to prevent their ruin from "creative" prosecutors using vague or seldom-enforced laws in health care, high-tech, legal affairs, financial services, labor, media and national security.
Another dimension comes from a recent Obama administration legal opinion that reaffirms government authority to review a federal employee's electronic messages. This suggests that the Feds will find it even easier than in a "fax" case to gather evidence against those who use workplace computers, cellphones and email for personal messages. Any probes would obviously capture evidence also about those who receive messages from government workers.
And this is not just at the federal level. We know from the Wecht case that the Feds assert jurisdiction to monitor employee messages within a county that receives $10,000 or more in federal funds. There's scant reason to think the Feds wouldn't scrutinize targets also at the city or town level.
Celebrity Death Expert
A Democrat, Wecht formerly chaired his party's county committee and ran for the U.S. Senate. For more than 35 years, Wecht has also been providing TV commentary about the deaths of celebrities spanning the demise of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Often controversial, he's contradicted official reports that President Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman, and he suggests that JonBenet Ramsey's father was a sex deviant involved in her death.
His blunt comments on local issues clearly irritated some officials who chafed also at his overlapping roles as a coroner, consultant, political organizer and medical school professor.
As coroner, he earned $64,000-a-year, and resigned promptly after indictment. His successor's pay was $175,000. That difference pays for lots of faxes and stationary.
As context, the Justice Department's longtime official policy is to use its authority in careful proportion to the public interest. In a famous 1940 speech, Attorney Gen. Robert Jackson warned the nation's U.S. attorneys against "the most dangerous power of a prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted." Jackson later served as chief U.S. prosecutor for World War II crimes and as a Supreme Court justice. Those positions provide long-term authority for his guidance, which remains widely quoted.
Wecht's attorneys from the powerhouse firm K&L Gates included former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, a Republican. In 2007, Thornburgh testified to the House Judiciary Committee that Wecht's prosecution was "political" and based on "trivial " clerical oversights. Nonetheless, DoJ forced Wecht and his attorneys to prepare for 250 witnesses until the government dropped more half the charges just before trial. Also, Wecht felt he needed many appeals to get a fair shake from his federal trial judge, a former law partner of his prosecutor's husband.
At trial in 2008, the jury deadlocked after 10 days of deliberations. Most jurors voted for acquittal. DoJ promptly announced a second trial, with the FBI contacting jurors to question them about their failure to convict. "It's a bizarre ending to one of the most unfair trials in history," commented lead defense counsel Jerry McDevitt.
A bipartisan coalition of community leaders protested Wecht's retrial. Then a new judge ruled that government's original search warrant in 2005 was illegal. The waste of taxpayer funds must have been astronomical given Wecht's own spending of $8 million.
Why was Wecht indicted on the fax charges? He says the Bush DoJ targeted him for his politics. This coincides with a nationwide study that showed a 7:1 pattern of DoJ investigating Democrats.
Additional support for the theory comes from a 2005 memo by DoJ's chief of staff to the White House calling for additional "loyal Bushies" in the U.S. attorney jobs to ensure optimal political results. That memo and other machinations led to an unprecedented mid-term purge the next year of nine U.S. attorneys who had been appointed earlier by the Bush administration.
Contrary to the public focus on those fired, the real story has always been the impact on the public of the super-loyalists who were retained in such a culture. The Wecht prosecution illustrates that impact.
As it turned out, Wecht drew Republican as well as Democratic support. Unlike most defendants, Wecht received fair coverage from both of his hometown's dailies, including that owned by conservative Richard Mellon Scaife. A bipartisan coalition of community leaders protested his retrial to DoJ.
As for the prosecutor who made life hell for Wecht and his family? Western Pennsylvania's U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is a partisan Republican who had led DoJ's office overseeing U.S. attorneys nationwide until mid-2005.
She denounced Wecht this summer even after being forced to drop the case. I contacted her and her media representative with a list of questions this week but didn't receive responses before publication. In the past, she's denied allegations that the Wecht prosecution was unfair or that she helped DoJ and White House colleagues plan DoJ's purge before she went to Pennsylvania.
Like nearly one-third of the 93 Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys, she remains in office today despite a U.S. tradition that top prosecutors resign soon after voters change the president's political party.
In Pennsylvania, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan remains in power as does U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Illinois
Who's Entitled To Fax?
Another of those retained is Patrick Fitzgerald, the famed U.S. attorney in Chicago. But Fitzgerald is not without critics. In fact, Fitzgerald used his office fax machine this year to send HarperCollins a threat that he'd sue on a personal basis if the company failed to destroy copies of the book Triple Cross that contained criticism that he considered defamatory.
A personal fax? When questioned, DoJ says it approves incidental personal use of fax machines by government employees.
On Oct. 1, DoJ announced a revamped website that enables your comments on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. DoJ's announcement says it won't be collecting data from the sites. That's good to know, isn't it? Especially if you're thinking of using a government device for your messages.
- Mary on Comments Policy
- Mary on Josiah Thompson on how to think about November 22
- G.W.Hicks on Breaking a promise, Trump blocked the release of JFK files a year ago
- G.W.Hicks on Ex-flame says Jack Ruby ‘had no choice’ but to kill Oswald
- Keyvan Shahrdar on A closer look at Orville Nix’s film
In Our Man in Mexico, investigative reporters tells the remarkable story of CIA station chief and what he really thought of JFK's assassination. Click on the cover image to buy it now.
About the Author(s)
Cyril H. Wecht M.D., J.D., is an internationally acclaimed forensic pathologist, attorney and medical-legal consultant who has become famous for consulting on deaths with a high media profile. His expertise has been called upon in cases involving John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Elvis Presley, JonBenét Ramsey, Laci Peterson and Kurt Cobain, the fatal stabbings of the family of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the O.J. Simpson slayings, and the Waco Branch Davidian fire, among many others.
Jeff Sewald is an award-winning writer and filmmaker who specializes in defining the cultural significance of people, places, things and events. His films include Gridiron & Steel, a documentary focusing on the spiritual relationship that exists between the sport of football and the people of southwestern Pennsylvania Peter Matthiessen: No Boundaries, about the legendary author and environmentalist and We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told, which chronicles the history and significance of jazz music in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D.
My mother and father were immigrants who had a mom-and-pop grocery store, and they worked hard. I was an only child—born March 20, 1931—and, from the beginning, my father told me that I was going to be a doctor.
I was an obedient child, so I never questioned it. Then as I moved through high school and into college, my life just seemed to flow that way. It was inculcated into me and that was it.
I went to Pitt—pre-med, of course—and was very active. I was president of the student body and of my fraternity. I was business manager of The Pitt News and of the Pitt Players. I had the lead role in “Our Town” and was concertmaster of the orchestra. I was even president of the YMCA—as a Jew! Back then, if you were a Big Man On Campus, everybody assumed you were pre-law because all BMOCs were pre-law. People kept asking, “Where are you going to go to law school?” Maybe that’s what gave me the idea of becoming a lawyer as well as a doctor.
Even before I finished my medical studies, I knew that I didn’t want to be a general practitioner. As you might guess, I was looking for something more exciting. I had already decided to go to law school and was looking for a field of medicine that was integrated with legal applications. That’s when I found forensic pathology. And even though I had been accepted to both Harvard and Yale, I chose the Pitt School of Law because I was also accepted into the pathology residency program at the Veterans Administration Hospital here in Oakland. They would let me go to law school during my residency, as long as I fulfilled all of my obligations at the hospital.
So for two years, I was a full-time law student and a full-time resident of pathology. But I needed one more year to finish up my law degree. Unfortunately, I got deferred through the military under what was called the Berry Plan. The idea was to let students finish med school and complete their residencies and specialties, then grab them for military service once they were full-fledged thoracic surgeons, etc. It sure beat grabbing a bunch of general practitioners! So they grabbed me as a pathologist. Law school was of no real concern to them—but I caught a break.
As luck would have it, I was stationed at the largest Air Force hospital in the country—400 beds and specialists in all fields—which was also the Air Force’s pathology center! And boy, did we have a huge load. A couple of dozen bases throughout the Southeast regularly sent us their specimens for analysis. Long story short, I got credit for third- and fourth-year pathology training while doing my military duty. All I needed was one more year of law school and a fellowship in forensic pathology. That’s when I discovered an excellent forensic pathology program at the medical examiner’s office in Baltimore and the University of Maryland, which had a good law school with a fully accredited evening division. So I went there, finished my third year of law school in the evening, and did my fellowship in forensic pathology at the M.E.’s office, then returned to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1962.
In my field, the term “legal medicine” is the over-arching rubric under which fall the disciplines of forensic pathology, hospital law, and healthcare and medical ethics. In forensic pathology, one deals with homicides and suicides, civil litigation and so on, and that kind of work made sense for me. I could use both my medical and legal backgrounds to the fullest extent. But I wasn’t planning on becoming a big shot. What evolved thereafter, I had nothing to do with directly.
In the fall of 1963, one of the program chairs for the upcoming 1964 annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences called and told me that they were going to do a full-day program on the Warren Commission Report. It would be considered from the perspectives of pathology, toxicology, psychiatry, criminalistics, anthropology, etc. He then asked if I would be willing to address the John F. Kennedy assassination case from the pathology angle. I said, “Sure.” So I went to the Carnegie Library in the fall of 1964 to review the report. It comprised 26 volumes and—to my horror—had no index! The bastards did this deliberately, of course, so that the American public wouldn’t bother reading it. Eventually, I found what I needed and gave my presentation in February of 1965, and I’ve been up to my eyeballs with J.F.K. in every way ever since. Things just sort of snowballed from there.
In 1968, Tom Noguchi, who was one of my good friends and colleagues, was the chief medical examiner of Los Angeles. One day, I got a call at 3 or 4 in the morning from Tom to tell me that Robert Kennedy had been shot. Now, Tom didn’t need any advice on the autopsy. But he knew of my involvement by that time with J.F.K., and was concerned that the feds would try to pull the same thing that they did with John—remove the body. I recommended that he speak with Pierre Salinger, a native Californian who was close to the Kennedys, and that he get the jump on the feds by inviting three military forensic pathologists to attend the autopsy. He did that and, for some reason, I ended up on national television with Dan Rather. Before long, all sorts of people started calling me about cases such as those of Sharon Tate, Patty Hearst, Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette. So I’ve met many interesting people through the years. Famed attorney F. Lee Bailey, for example, recommended me to the D.A. of Suffolk County for the Mary Jo Kopechne case, and I testified before the judge as to why her body should be exhumed.
You know, I’ve probably done more exhumations than any other forensic scientist in the country because my work has been so involved in medical-legal matters. In fact, I just did an exhumation for a guy who’d been dead for two or three years. And even I, after 45 years and more than 100 exhumation autopsies, for a moment thought, “What the hell is this?” My nose is yours and my eyes are yours. I can smell and see what you smell and see. But there are certain things to which you can’t acclimatize. You can’t be trained not to smell or see. But it’s the work that I do. For me, the most important thing is never to lose cognizance of the fact that I’m dealing with deceased human beings. Somebody somewhere loved these people. These situations must always be handled with great dignity and respect. This is not to raise a flag, but those of us in forensic pathology, we recognize that what we do is very, very sensitive—and also very, very important.
Sometimes comments come back, often snide, about my involvement in certain high-profile cases. Well, that’s what I do as a forensic pathologist. My work with the media hasn’t kept me from doing autopsies. There aren’t very many pathologists around who have done more than me, and there aren’t very many who, at my age, are still doing them—more than 300 a year. So my detractors can take their criticism and shove it. The point is, the more involved you get in very big cases, every time you testify, your expertise (or, for some people, the lack thereof) is on record. In the old days, people had to seek out “Attorney X” in Connecticut or “Attorney Y” in Kansas to get a record of who said what in a particular case. Today, you can just push a couple of buttons and everything you ever said is there for all to read or hear. Now more than ever, we must maintain our honesty, integrity and credibility, otherwise our careers will be finished.
So does it make me an egomaniac to say that I enjoy the media and being on TV programs? I don’t think so. I don’t rush home to see myself. I don’t get “Investigation Discovery” on cable. One of my sons, who lives just two blocks away, does, but I don’t go over there to see myself. In fact, the producers send me disks of the shows and I don’t look at them. I simply don’t have the time, and I watch very little TV anyway. I read five newspapers every day—four on Saturday when there’s no USA Today, and three on Sunday. (There’s no Wall Street Journal on that day either.) I still work seven days a week, many evenings, and I like to write. I don’t waste time. I give interviews, even while I’m in the car, via cell phone. I get many requests from students and I’ll often have them call me at home on weekends when I’ll have more time to spend with them.
Sure, I work hard. And yes, I’m proud of what I do. They named the Allegheny County medical examiner facility after me, you know. And I’ve won more awards than I can count. So don’t feel sorry for me because of my schedule. My wife and I, we get away when we can—three-day weekends, if they fit with the various programs that I keep up with. For the most part, things quiet down in the courts during the holidays, so we like to get away for Christmas and New Year’s. We love movies and have season tickets to many things here in town, including the Steelers. Most, of course, are shared with my family.
It’s amazing, but all of my kids wound up in Pittsburgh—without any scheming or conniving on my part. My oldest son, David, went to Yale and is now administrative judge of the Family Division with 13 judges under him. He’s going to be running for Superior Court next year in Pennsylvania. He’s got four kids. My second son, Daniel, went to Harvard, did medical school at Penn, then six years of training in neurosurgery followed by a two-year fellowship at Yale. He’s a neurosurgeon at UPMC and has three kids. My son Ben graduated from Penn, has a master’s degree from Stanford, and is program director of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne. He’s got two kids. My daughter, Ingrid—my youngest—went to Dartmouth and then got her master’s and medical degrees at Georgetown. She’s an OB/GYN specialist, grouped mostly with West Penn, and she has two girls. So we have four kids, their spouses, and 11 grandchildren, and we get together at our home almost every Sunday when we’re in town, and share dinner or brunch once in a while. One shouldn’t take family for granted.
Yes. Mike Webster, nicknamed "Iron Mike," was a former center for the Pittsburgh Steelers who passed away of a heart attack in 2002 at age 50. Like in the Concussion movie, he had spent years battling depression, dementia, amnesia, and severe back pain. The real Bennet Omalu discovered CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) while trying to make sense of why Webster's symptoms were present at his relatively young age.
Did Mike Webster really live out of his truck?
Did Mike Webster really knock himself out with a Taser so that he could sleep?
Yes. The real Mike Webster had become so plagued by chronic back pain that he bought a stun gun so that he could zap his leg, sometimes up to a dozen times, to knock himself out (ESPN.com). The movie shows him on the autopsy table right after zapping himself, falsely implying that he Tasered himself to death (other factors, including his lifestyle and drug use, were the more likely causes of his heart attack). He died in Allegheny General Hospital's coronary care unit in Pittsburgh. As mentioned in the movie, he had also Super-Glued his rotting teeth (GQ).
Did Dr. Omalu really talk to his patients?
Yes. "There's a practice I have. I'm a spiritual person. I'm a Catholic," says the real Dr. Bennet Omalu. "I treat my patients, the dead patients, as live patients. I believe there's life after death. And I talk to my patients. I talk to them, not loudly, but quietly in my heart when I look at them. Before I do an autopsy, I must have a visual contact with the face. I do that. I'll come out of respect I'll look at the face."
He continued, "I saw [Mike Webster] was embalmed. He looked older than his age. And I said to him, 'Mike, you need to help me. You need to help me. Let's prove them wrong. You're a victim of football, but you need to help me, wherever you are. I can't do this by myself. I'm a nobody, but you need to help me. Let's prove them wrong.'" -PBS.org
Is Omalu's adversary at the coroner's office based on a real person?
No. In researching the Concussion true story, we discovered that Omalu's coworker in the movie, Daniel Sullivan (Mike O'Malley), is a fictional character who opposes Omalu's unorthodox methods, including talking to cadavers (the real Omalu did that). Sullivan is also a voice for the Pittsburgh Steelers faithful, many of whom would oppose seeing one of their heroes, Mike Webster, cut open and dissected.
In real life, Dr. Bennet Omalu felt embarrassed for obsessing over one brain for so long, sometimes staying at work until 2 a.m. to study Webster's brain. Worried what his coworkers were thinking, he decided to take the brain home to his condo in the borough of Churchill near Pittsburgh. -GQ
Do football players really get hit with a force of up to 100 g's?
Yes. The movie implies it is common for football players to take hits with a force of 100 g's. According to a study published by the University of Oklahoma, that much force is seen mainly in cases where receivers are blindsided in the open field. More common cases of football players being knocked out occur at roughly sixty to ninety g's. By comparison, fighter pilots lose consciousness after enduring five or six g's over an extended period of time. The study found that linemen get hit with a force of twenty to thirty g's on every snap, mainly because they start out by ramming heads. Former Steelers center Mike Webster, Omalu's patient zero, endured an estimated 25,000 violent collisions over the course of his career. -GQ
Is Omalu's girlfriend Prema based on a real person?
Yes. Prema Mutiso, portrayed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the film, is indeed a real person. Like in the Concussion movie, she was a nurse from Nairobi, Kenya who immigrated to the U.S. to advance her studies. She went to the same Pittsburgh church as Omalu. They first met at a party, and when the sparks didn't fly, Omalu decided to reintroduce himself after church one day. He began doing favors for her&mdashhe drove her places and left surprises on her doorstep. However, Prema did not initially live with Omalu like in the movie, yet he did offer to pay her rent. -Concussion book
They were dating when Omalu made his initial discoveries, and according to Jeanne Marie Laskas's GQ article on which the film is based, Prema helped Omalu with his research, documenting his work as he examined the brain samples of former NFL players that were sent to him by their loved ones. She did this in part by taking photos, a strategy that Omalu says "was very valuable."
Similar to the movie, the two married as Omalu conducted his research. They moved to California and currently have two young children, a daughter, Ashly, and a son, Mark. -Bustle.com
Did Dr. Bennet Omalu really pay for the research himself?
Was Dr. Bennet Omalu the first person to identify a correlation between football-related concussions and long-term brain damage?
No. In fact, before he became Omalu's patient zero following his death, Mike Webster's doctors had known that his repeated concussions had caused damage to his frontal lobe, which led to cognitive impairment, difficulty concentrating and an attention deficit, essentially causing him to become punch-drunk (a condition most commonly found in former boxers). In 1999, Webster was charged with forging 19 Ritalin prescriptions, which he said he was using to combat the brain damage caused by repeated trauma to his head as an NFL player, damage that he claimed had led him to behave erratically. -NYTimes.com
Following Mike Webster's death, Dr. Bennet Omalu studied his brain and became the first person to discover what was causing the damage that had led Webster to experience Alzheimer's-like symptoms. Omalu discovered the degenerative disease known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a result of repeated trauma to the head.
Did the NFL first take notice after Dr. Bennet Omalu's paper on CTE was published?
Yes. However, in real life Omalu had two papers published in the journal Neuroscience. The first, "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player," was published in July 2005 and the second, "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player: Part II," was published in November 2006. The first pertained to patient zero, Mike Webster, and the second dealt with the brain of former Steelers guard Terry Long, Omalu's second confirmed CTE case. The story reached the mainstream press after the second article was published. -GQ
Did the NFL really try to discredit Bennet Omalu's findings?
Did Dr. Bennet Omalu really believe that the NFL would be pleased with his findings?
Yes. As we investigated the Concussion true story, we learned that the real Bennet Omalu thought that the NFL doctors would be pleased with his findings and that the league would use his research to try and correct the concussion problem. "I was naive," Omalu admits. "There are times I wish I never looked at Mike Webster's brain. It has dragged me into worldly affairs I do not want to be associated with. Human meanness, wickedness, and selfishness. People trying to cover up, to control how information is released. I started this not knowing I was walking into a minefield. That is my only regret." -GQ
What exactly is CTE and what are its symptoms?
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in people who have suffered repeated trauma to the brain, including concussions and sub-concussive blows to the head that may not result in instant symptoms. The characteristic signs of CTE include the accumulation of tau protein and the degeneration of brain tissue. Tau is sort of like a sludge that clogs things up and kills cells in areas of the brain responsible for emotions, mood, and cognitive control (reasoning, memory, problem solving). Symptoms include memory loss, dementia, aggression, depression, paranoia, and confusion, most often occurring years after the trauma to the brain took place.
Why aren't more NFL players being tested for CTE?
Currently, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) does not show up on a CT scan and can only be diagnosed posthumously.
Could CTE really be blamed for the suicides of several former NFL players?
Yes, but the extent to which CTE can be blamed for these suicides is much more complicated than what is presented in the Concussion movie. For example, though Mike Webster did not outright kill himself, the movie implies that CTE is what caused his downward spiral, a slow suicide of sorts that ultimately ended in his death. However, the real Mike Webster had a history of mental illness on both sides of his family. His mother had suffered a nervous breakdown and his siblings were bipolar. One of them tried to commit suicide several times. In addition to suffering from CTE, Webster, a former steroid user, was depressed, hooked on painkillers, divorced, had lost money in bad investments, and had faced numerous lawsuits.
Similar histories can be attributed to the other suicides addressed in the movie, which might lead one to believe that the tragic aspects of these men's lives put them at an elevated risk for suicide. Of course, the opposite could also be concluded, that the effects of CTE led them down these dark paths - marital problems, depression, drug abuse, mood swings, etc., ultimately ending in suicide.
Did the feds really raid the office of Omalu's boss to get to him?
No. In the movie, Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) arrives at work to discover the feds sifting through the files of his boss and mentor, forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks). Wecht was charged with 84 counts of corruption, primarily for using government resources to advance his private practice. The charges against Wecht are real but the movie conveniently implies that the feds went after Wecht to get to Omalu. "You are attacking him to get to me!" exclaims Will Smith's character.
In reality, the FBI did raid Wecht's office. However, it occurred three months before Omalu published his findings regarding concussions in football. The raid and charges against Wecht had nothing to do with Omalu, CTE or the NFL. No, the feds were not in cahoots with the NFL to make Omalu go away. -Slate.com
Did Omalu really refuse to testify against his boss and mentor Cyril Wecht?
Did Omalu's wife Prema really miscarry from fear that the NFL was watching them?
No. There is no mention of this in the GQ article on which the movie is based&mdashno mention of Prema being followed by a suspicious car or suffering a miscarriage afterward from the stress. There is also no mention of this in the Concussion book that expands upon the article. In fact, there is no mention of a miscarriage at all.
Was Bennet Omalu really not invited to the NFL's first league-wide concussion summit?
Omalu was not invited. Like in the Concussion movie, they asked former Steelers team doctor, neurosurgeon Julian Bailes. He presented Omalu's slides and research. The NFL dismissed it, stating that the only valid evidence of CTE was in boxers and some steeplechase jockeys. -GQ
Did Omalu really get an offer to become the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C.?
Yes, and like in the movie, he turned down the position, preferring to remain on the outskirts and stay away from the political side of the job. -Concussion book
Could there eventually be a cure for CTE?
Yes, and Dr. Bennet Omalu, along with colleague and friend Dr. Julian Bailes, are working toward it. The current thought in finding a cure is to develop a medication that would prevent the buildup of tau proteins in the brain, which is the characteristic component of CTE. "You pop a pill before you play, a medicine that prevents the buildup of tau," Omalu says. "Like you take an aspirin to prevent heart disease." Of course, another way to prevent the disease is to limit the amount of head-to-head contact. One way to do this would be to have the linemen start from a squatting position instead of lining up with their helmets ready to collide, an idea the NFL is not ready to consider. -GQ
Broaden your knowledge of the Concussion true story by watching the Bennet Omalu interview below. Also watch an interview with former Steeler Mike Webster, which shows him experiencing the likely effects of CTE.