Outspoken Wecht wants readers to understand ‘the multifaceted challenges of the interface of law and medicine’
Pathologists will recognize the name of nationally-acclaimed forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, MD, JD, who for more than a half-century has been at the center of many of the country’s highest-profile civil and criminal cases. Thus, Dark Daily readers will be intrigued to learn the so-called “godfather of forensic pathology” has published a memoir that takes readers behind the scenes of many of his most controversial forensic pathology cases.
In “The Life and Deaths of Cyril Wecht: Memoirs of America’s Most Controversial Forensic Pathologist,” 90-year-old Wecht covers such high-profile cases as:
- the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) and his brother Senator Robert F. Kennedy,
- the O.J. Simpson murder case,
- the deaths of Elvis Presley, Laci Peterson, JonBenét Ramsey, and others.
A ‘No-Holds-Barred’ Account
According to TribLIVE, the book—written by Wecht and award-winning writer/filmmaker Jeff Sewald—is a “no-holds-barred account” of Wecht’s personal and professional life. Among the more interesting tidbits are details regarding Wecht’s 1972 discovery that JFK autopsy materials and specimens had gone missing.
“They had been in the government’s possession, so nobody could have touched them, but now the metal container which has held John Kennedy’s brain in formalin was no longer on the list of contents. In addition, various photographs and microscopic tissue slides were also no longer listed. The President’s brain was missing!” wrote Wecht, who argued Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in killing JFK and may not have fired the shots that killed him.
In 2006, Wecht faced an 84-count federal public corruption trial, which resulted in him resigning as Alleghany, Pa. medical examiner, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. In his memoir, Wecht wrote extensively about his public corruption trial. TribLIVE noted Wecht “expresses particular disgust” over the accusation that he supplied Pittsburgh’s Carlow University with cadavers in exchange for use of their laboratory space for his own practice. His trial ended in a hung jury.
“The body-snatching issue was seized upon by the media and was the subject of some of the most horrible cartoons ever,” Wecht wrote. “What made them especially horrible was the fact that I believe anti-Semitism was at their core. They made me look wicked and shadowy, like a ‘Shylock’ who was willing to stoop as low as selling human corpses for a handful of shekels. It was sickening.”
Wecht became known nationally through media appearances and his many decades of work as a medical-legal consultant in civil and criminal cases. At the 2000 Forensic Science and the Law Conference, television host and political commentator Geraldo Rivera, JD, stated, “I’ve known Cyril Wecht for most of my 30-year broadcasting career, and my respect for him has only grown over the decades. His skills as an attorney, as a pathologist, as a medical examiner are legendary.
“Dr. Wecht has guided my audiences through our coverage of crimes ranging from the Kennedy assassination to the O.J. Simpson trial to the JonBenet Ramsey murder mystery,” Rivera added. “And whether or not my audiences knew it, they were getting an education in forensic science—and a lesson in how medical science is applied to this country’s criminal laws.”
An ‘Expert’ and an ‘Irritant’
Though also certified in anatomic pathology and clinical pathology, Wecht has spent his career as a forensic pathologist focused on determining the cause of death. He has performed approximately 17,000 autopsies and has supervised, reviewed, or been consulted on approximately 30,000 additional postmortem examinations, the Cyrilwecht.com website states.
Wecht received his medical degree from the University of Pittsburg and his law degree from the University of Maryland. He is certified by the American Board of Pathology in anatomic, clinical, and forensic pathology, and is a Fellow of the College of American Pathologists (CAP) and the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP). Wecht serves as a clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, and Graduate School of Public Health. He also holds positions as an adjunct professor at the Duquesne University School of Law, School of Pharmacy, and School of Health Sciences.
Pathologists who followed Wecht’s career may know of his reputation “as both an expert and an irritant,” noted the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. For his part, Wecht stated, “If I had been a bit more diplomatic and patient, and a little less antagonistic and controversial, I might have achieved more,” the newspaper reported.
Anyone interested in forensic pathology will likely enjoy reading the behind-the-scenes stories from Wecht’s more than six decades of work. But Wecht’s memoir should be particularly intriguing and informative for clinical and anatomic pathologists, as well as all medical laboratory scientists.
—Andrea Downing Peck