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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Dr. Cyril Wecht (1931 - 2024) זיכרונו לברכה‎

Dr. Cyril Wecht died last week at the age of 93.

May his memory be a blessing.

I first encountered Dr. Wecht in 1975 after I watched the Zapruder film on Geraldo Rivera's Good Night America. The next day I went to the Dawson College Library in Montreal to see what books they had on the JFK assassination. I took out Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment, which I devoured in a few days.

One line caught my attention: (page 62)

... federal police agents confiscated the crucial photographs and X-rays.

Lane's book was written in 1966 and it was now 1975. What had happened in the intervening nine years? I went to the Periodical Index and the New York Times Annual Index to fill in the gap. The library had bound volumes of Time magazine and Newsweek, and so I would write down some relevant dates and then run down to the stacks.

It didn't take long before I found out that the autopsy photographs and X-rays were in the possession of the Kennedy family, and that two doctors, Dr. John Lattimer and Dr. Cyril Wecht, had been allowed to view the materials in 1972. I then found an index of physicians in the United States, and I wrote both of them letters.

About three weeks later, packages arrived from both doctors with their various articles. Lattimer was in the no-conspiracy camp and his articles were extensively illustrated. His diagram of the single-bullet theory was the first time I had seen that CE399 had tumbled.

But I was far more interested in Wecht's articles. After all, he was a renowned forensic pathologist with the requisite credentials. His article in Forensic Science from 1974 was definitive.

Dr. Wecht wrote that the autopsy photographs and X-rays proved that the fatal head shot came from behind:

The last section of his article was titled "Present state of knowledge of the details of the shooting," and it included this paragraph:

So, if Dr. Wecht believed the medical evidence showed that the head shot came from behind, well, who was I to argue? Clearly, he thought that the autopsy photographs and X-rays trumped the Zapruder film.

Wecht had earlier testified that there was a very remote possibility of a frangible bullet that perhaps had "not penetrated deeply."

In other words, a frangible bullet, fired simultaneously with a shot from behind, might have entered at the exit point of the other bullet and thus left no evidence that it had been fired.

Of course, Wecht knew that the left hemisphere of JFK's brain was intact, and so, in his testimony he added that a second shot might have been fired from "the right side or the lower right rear."

Over the years, Wecht's position that a head shot came from the front hardened.

But why did Wecht change his mind? I had hoped that his 2022 book, The JFK Assassination Dissected would the answer. Here is a short excerpt: (page 228)

Olsen [Counsel for the Rockefeller Commission] was interested in having me admit that I had stated in the Journal piece and elsewhere that the evidence pointed to the president having been struck only by two bullets that came from the rear. Specifically, I had written in the article: “If any other bullet struck the President’s head, whether before, after, or simultaneously with the known shot, there is no evidence for it in the available autopsy materials.” Olsen and other of my critics suggest this means that no missile was fired from the grassy knoll area. As I explained to him and to countless others over the years, that is hardly the case, and they should focus on the last five words of my quote. What could have helped make a positive determination was the brain, which was conveniently missing. Also mitigating against a solo from-the-rear shooter was the president’s body movement after the fatal head blow. That “back and to the left” movement, shown so clearly in the Zapruder film, could only have come from a front shot. As usual, the opposition was trying to win an argument by only citing facts to prop up its contention, rather than assessing all of the information. Hilariously, Olsen tried to cast doubt on my expertise by getting me to confess that I had never shot a rifle at a live target. He was right about that. As frustrated as I may have been by some of our government’s apologists, I never once considered using them for live target practice!

Now Wecht was claiming that it was the motion of JFK's head, as captured by the Zapruder film, which made him change his mind.


He knew all about the motion of JFK's head when he wrote his article in Forensic Science. In fact, he doesn't say anything in his book about his initial conclusion that JFK was hit from behind. Was he trying to hide this from his readers? Does he not have a good answer as to why he has changed his opinion?

I believe Dr. Wecht was influenced by conspiracy theorists who were upset with his conclusion that the head shot was fired from behind. He must have felt it was easier to ignore those conclusions and just accept that JFK's head motion was the primary indicator that JFK was shot from the front.

Dr. Wecht knew that saying certain things would get you into trouble at one of the many conspiracy gatherings.

Wecht even believed that Oswald killed Tippit. Here is an excerpt of a letter he wrote Sylvia Meagher in 1972:

In later years, Wecht's presentations were just not serious.

The slide in the illustration was a standard part of his conspiracy presentation. The bullet on the left is CE 399, the two bullets next to it (CE 572) were fired through cotton wadding, the next bullet (CE 853) was fired through the rib of a goat, and the bullet on the right (CE 856) was fired though a wrist of a human cadaver.

Here is an excerpt from a transcript: (1:10:59, Wecht acts like he is talking to a jury)

Dr. Wecht: And so, I say to you then, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is there anybody here that has any question, any doubt, a moment's, a moment's concern, at all, about what we, the government have shown you? If a bullet that breaks a rib can look like this, and a bullet that breaks a radius can look like this, is there anybody here amongst you that has the slightest difficulty in understanding and comprehending how a bullet that breaks both a rib and the ulna can look like that? No problem, huh? This is the one thing, God, I take with me to my grave. You can have everything else, but I want this picture, this picture alone. That is the government's case, ok.

But the use of these exhibits is completely misleading. Of course, there will be significant damage to a Mannlicher-Carcano bullet fired directly into a wrist, or directly through a rib. Surely Dr. Wecht must know that CE 399 started to yaw after it exited JFK's throat, and that it didn't hit Connally's rib head on with full velocity.

The tests conducted at the Edgewood Arsenal showed that a direct hit by a pristine bullet on Connally's wrist would have produced both a badly deformed bullet, and much more damage to the wrist:

Cadaver wrist after being shot by a pristine bullet.

The bullet fired into the cadaver above.

Dr. Olivier concluded that Connally's wrist was not hit by a pristine bullet.

Surely, Dr. Wecht had read this testimony and must have been aware that he was not telling his audience the full story.

Similarly, Dr. Wecht was always fond of demonstrating that the positions of JFK and Connally in the limousine were not conducive to the single-bullet theory: (55:47)

Note that Dr. Wecht incorrectly places the location of JFK's back wound. For reference, here is his placement from his 1974 article in Forensic Science:

The position of the two people is also wrong -- JFK and Connally weren't directly in front of each other, and the jump seat was significantly lower than the back seat:

Surely Dr. Wecht must have also known this. How could he not?

But his show was aways a hit. And Dr. Wecht found delight in being the showman. Followers of the Church of Latter-Day Conspiracy Theorists loved Dr. Wecht's rhetoric, and he never let them down.

After Dr. Wecht sent me his papers, we continued to correspond. He sent me a copy of his testimony before the Rockefeller Commission, and I even called him on the phone once. Back then, Wecht had the gravitas needed to convince people that a new investigation was needed.

I miss the early Dr. Wecht. I hope that Dr. Wecht rests in peace.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts on Dr. Cyril Wecht

Wecht fights with Posner over Connally's coat bulge.

A letter from Dr. Wecht to Thomas Stamm on the head shot.

A letter from Dr. Wecht to Sylvia Meagher on the head shot.

Dr. Wecht exchanges letters with Sylvia Meagher.

Wecht writes Harold Weisberg about Garrison.

A ridiculous claim from Wecht's book.

Wecht revisits an old controversy.

Dr. Wecht believes that JFK's throat wound was one of exit.

Wecht believes that David Ferrie died of natural causes.

Wecht makes an error on Ruby's nightclubs.

He wears it like a badge of honor.

Dr. Wecht writes that Cherami was not killed by a gunshot.


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