The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was “the overthrow of the government, it was coup d'état in America.”
So declared Dr. Cyril Wecht, the famous forensic pathologist -- to the applause of about 300 people attending his presentation on the Kennedy assassination Tuesday night at DeSales University in Center Valley, Lehigh Co.
“The assassination of John F. Kennedy was plotted and executed by people in this country,” said Wecht.
“Jack Kennedy was going to be around for five more years – no question – followed by eight years of Bobby Kennedy—almost certainly.”
He said there was no way in the world that “super, super patriots” were going to sit back and allow the Kennedys to move the country politically and ideologically for 13 years.
He said the Kennedys – and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, who like Bobby Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968 -- were undefeatable.
“You could not beat the Kennedys with their charm, their charisma, their power, their money, their colleagues, their friends, the constituencies that fell in line. There was only one way to eliminate that. That was through physical assassination.”
Wecht, one of the nation’s leading experts on the assassination of the president, spoke with so much passion about Kennedy’s death that someone walking into the middle of his talk might have thought he was talking about someone killed just last week, rather than nearly 50 years ago.
The 50th anniversary of his assassination will be observed in November. He was killed on Nov. 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade through Dallas, Texas.
Wecht told the audience he could not give them the name of the person behind the assassination of the Kennedy brothers. “I probably would be afraid if I knew the name. But there are some people that are very suspect, who were high ranking in the CIA at that time.”
Wecht said it is naïve to suggest that the true reasons for the assassination should have leaked out by now. He said “super spies” would never talk about it, but would do it “for the best of reasons in your mind, to save your country, which is going to hell in a basket under the Kennedys.”
He noted at the time some leading U.S. military leaders were advocating dropping nuclear bombs on Russia and that people opposed Kennedy’s views on civil rights and voting rights. Some also didn’t like the president just because he was Catholic.
“This was the social-political climate in our country.”
Wecht indicated no other president in his lifetime has had as much public support as John Kennedy.
Oswald not alone?
Wecht said history and political science books in high schools and colleges report Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin, but every poll taken from the late 60s until the present shows the American people do not agree.
He said the latest poll, done late last year, shows 85 percent of Americans do not believe Oswald was the sole assassin.
‘There’s not 85 percent of people in America who think that apple pie, baseball, motherhood and sex is a good idea, but 85 percent of Americans reject the Warren Commission report.”
He encouraged his audience to read several different books about the Kennedy assassination, including those defending the Warren Commission report -- which concludes Oswald alone did it -- and come to their own conclusion about whether it is possible for one person “to shoot from that window, with that weapon, to produce those wounds” in 5.6 seconds.
He said the bolt-action rifle Oswald supposedly used takes 2.3 seconds from shot to shot when fired by the best marksmen in the country. But Gov. John Connally of Texas, who was sitting in front of the president in the open motorcade car, was shot 1.5 second after Kennedy was hit.
He said Oswald flunked his first marksmanship test in the U.S. Marines and got the equivalent of a C-minus the second time he took it.
Wecht believes two shooters killed the president that day in Dallas, one from the rear --. “I personally don’t believe it was Oswald” – and one from the picket fence behind the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. “At least four shots were fired, quite possibly five,” he said. “The president was hit in the head twice.”
As Wecht went frame by frame through the famous Zapruder film of the assassination, Kennedy is first seen grabbing his throat. Many in the audience gasped in horror when the front of the president’s head exploded in blood and gore.
Wecht called that film the single most important piece of evidence in the entire case.
Wecht shot big holes in the single bullet theory, that the same bullet killed the president and wounded the governor. “He called it “scientific nonsense – a forensic folly of the highest order.”
He had his wife Sigrid and program organizer Dr. Katherine Ramsland sit in chairs in the front of the room to simulate the positions of Kennedy and Connally in the car.
He demonstrated that one bullet had to change directions at least twice in mid-air to strike both men. He said Connally had five wounds.
Wecht said the two military pathologists called in to Bethesda Naval Hospital to do the autopsy on the president, after his body was flown to Washington, had never done a single gunshot-wound autopsy in their entire careers. He said 33 people witnessed that autopsy, including admirals and generals.
Wecht said in August 1972, he learned President Kennedy’s brain was missing. “To this day, all these years later, it remains missing.” He said forensic analysis of the brain would have shown trajectories of two different bullets.
He said Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald two days after the assassination, had been let into the basement of the police building in Dallas by a high-ranking police officer. “The Warren Commission never said anything about that.” He said Jack Ruby was Mafia, but he does not believe the Mafia orchestrated the death of the president.
He also does not believe vice president Lyndon Johnson, who became president when Kennedy was killed, or FBI director J. Edgar Hoover were involved.
“I do believe Hoover was very much part of the subsequent cover-up and not digging into it.”
He also does not believe the Russians, Cubans or Chinese were behind the assassination.
Waiting for the truth
The 82-year-old Wecht told the audience he used to think the truth about the assassination would be made known in his lifetime. “I now know it’s not going to happen in my lifetime. It’s going to take another generation or two. There remains under seal to this day thousands of documents, which according to an executive order issued in April 1965, remain sealed for 75 years.
“My suggestion is get your children and your grandchildren to read and study, that’s the call to action.”
He encouraged DeSales to get the 26-volume Warren Commission report on the president’s assassination for its library, but to be sure to put it with Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and other works of fiction.
The audience applauded when he called that report “the greatest bit of forensic scientific fiction that has ever been foisted on the American public.”
Robert Kennedy assassination
Wecht said Robert Kennedy had just won the Democratic primary in California and was assured of winning the Democratic nomination for president in 1968. He was assassinated in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968.
The accused assassin is Sirhan Sirhan.
Wecht stunned the audience when he said the autopsy of Robert Kennedy showed he was killed by a shot fired from only an inch to an inch-and-a-half behind Kennedy’s right ear.
On that point, he said, “There was unanimity of opinion among 10-12 forensic pathologists, including military people.
“This evidence was never introduced into the trial of Sirhan Sirhan,” said Wecht.
"Also, there were 13 shots fired. The gun only held eight bullets. He sure as heck never reloaded that gun.”
He said a private guard standing right behind Robert Kennedy had a gun, but it was never examined by the authorities. Months later, a search for that gun showed it changed hands several times, then was stolen and never recovered.
Wecht said he participated in the autopsy of James Earl Ray, accused assassin of Martin Luther King. He described Ray as a “two-bit, petty, punk thief – a penniless bum who was in jail for most of his adult life.” He also said Ray was not involved in politics.
He expressed skepticism that Ray acted on his own in killing the civil rights leader on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn.
Wecht said Ray fled to Canada, but forgot to take the rifle with his fingerprints on it. He said, in Canada, Ray had documents “that would make Sean Connery playing 007 green with envy,” and that he managed to flee to England and Portugal before being caught.
Wecht spoke for more than an hour, then answered questions from the audience for another 25 minutes.
He said Elvis Presley died not of heart disease, but from 12 central nervous system depressant drugs, including tranquilizers, sedatives and anti-depressants.
One of the several books Wecht has written is about JonBenet Ramsey, the six-year-old Colorado beauty pageant queen found dead in the basement of her home in 1996. He does not believe it was a botched kidnapping attempt, indicating it made no sense for kidnappers to write a ransom note, but then forgot to take the body. He believes JonBenet accidentally was killed by her father during a sex game.
Wecht spoke at the latest in a series of Forensic Forums organized by Ramsland, who teaches forensic psychology at DeSales.
Ramsland introduced Wecht by saying “he seeks social truth and justice in some of our greatest forensic mysteries.”
“I’ve given you the forensic scientific facts,” Wecht told the audience. “I have not said a thing here today that is not subject to corroboration.”
In addition to being a forensic pathologist who has done more than 18,000 autopsies, Wecht is a doctor, a lawyer, an author and a legal and medical consultant who frequently weighs in on high-profile deaths in the national news media.
He said he was interviewed a few months ago for a History Channel program about the Kennedy assassination, which will air in November.
He is clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health.
He said he has another book coming out about the Kennedy assassination in about a month.
He also said his first e-book, called “Final Exams,” is coming out next week.