By Jim Fetzerwith David S. Lifton
“The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves”― Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
As serious students of the death of JFK are aware, the FBI and the Secret Service concluded on the day of the assassination that there had been three shots and three hits:
* the first shot had hit JFK in the back, about 5.5″ below the collar to the right of the spinal column;
* the second had hit Texas Governor John Connally in the back, shattered a rib and exited his chest, hitting his right wrist and then entering his left thigh;
* the third shot hit JFK low on the back of his head, killing him.
Even the Warren Commission staff accepted this account, which was the basis for its reenactment of the crime, which was done using the Secret Service Cadillac, but which also had the effect of depriving it of any legal-forensic significance, had the case made its way into a court of law.
JFK had been riding in a Lincoln limousine at the time, which had different dimensions with respect to its seats and elevation from the ground. This was surely not by accident but by design:
When it was belatedly discovered that a distant by-stander, James Tague, had been slightly injured by a shot that missed, however, the Warren Commission found itself in a dilemma, since they would either have to admit that there were more than three shots or acknowledge the miss and attempt to account for all of the wounds using only two. They chose the latter course, which led to the infamous “magic bullet” theory, which is not only false but provably false and, indeed, not even anatomically possible, as I would explain during a lecture at Cambridge which was subsequently published in an international, peer-reviewed journal. You can imagine my astonishment to discover that Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D., past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and former medical examiner for Allegheney County, who has performed around 17,000 autopsies, was attempting to revive it.
The two “Cyril Wechts”
We have all heard of the “two Oswalds” theory, which has been advanced by John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee (2003), which maintains that there were two persons with similar features who lived parallel lives, but who had different roles to play with regard to the assassination. I have been skeptical of this thesis, because the CIA creates false identities for its agents to enable them to return to civilian life with a personal history. I believe that Armstrong has mistaken the documents and records created for Lee H. Oswald to return to civilian life for the non-fictional existence of another “Oswald”. To prove the existence of two, you would have to prove the existence of at least three: the real Lee, the real Harvey, and the fictional persona of one or of both.
In the case of the “two Wechts”, however, the challenge is far less daunting. We have the “old” Wecht, who was a persistent critic of the “magic bullet” theory, and the “new” Wecht, who now endorses that JFK was hit at the back of his neck, that the bullet transited his neck without hitting any bony structures and that it exited his throat–not to enter the back of Gov. John Connally, however, but turning the wound to his throat from a wound of entry into a wound of exit. Cyril was a member of the medical panel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which reinvestigated the case in 1977-78 and who’s Final Report was published in 1979. This is only one of several positions that he advances in his latest interview, which David Lifton sent to me, which have led me to review his role in assassination research and that of the HSCA. Let’s begin with the “old” Cyril Wecht:
Here Cyrcil Wecht lampoons the “magic bullet” theory, for which he became famous within the JFK research community. The case is even stronger than presented here, since, once you realized that the bullet actually hit 5.5″ below the collar to the right of the spinal column, it becomes apparent that its alleged trajectory is not simply beyond belief but actually preposterous–as is the claim that the bullet that caused all that damage should have emerged from its ordeal in virtually pristine condition, with slight longitudinal distortion but in a condition similar to rounds fired into wads of cotton or buckets of water, as I illustrate in Murder in Dealey Plaza (2000), page 411. Here is a diagram displaying the absurdity of the theory when the actual hit point is known:
The reason the “magic bullet” theory is the crux of both The Warren Report (1964) andThe HSCA Final Report (1979)–where the major difference between them with regard to the shot sequence is that the HSCA concluded there had been an additional shooter on the grassy knoll who had fired but missed–is that, as Michael Baden, M.D., one-time Medical Examiner for New York City and head of the HSCA’s medical panel has observed, if the “magic bullet” theory were false, then there have to have been at least six shots from three directions, which turns out to be correct, since JFK was hit four times, one shot missed and injured James Tague, and at least one and possibly as many as three shots hit Connally. No one familiar with the evidence should have any doubt that the “magic bullet” theory is false.
The WTAE-Pittsburgh interview
Virtually everyone in the JFK community has witnessed Cyril Wecht do his thing, so I was fairly astonished when David S. Lifton contacted me and informed me about an interview Cyril had done with Channel 4, WTAE-Pittsburgh, about the conference he was moderating at Duquesne University, 17-19 October 2013, sponsored by The Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law. When I read the transcript that David had provided of Cyril on YouTube (below), I was fairly astonished that he (Cyril Wecht) was supporting a three-hit scenario and at least half of the “magic bullet” fantasy, which he had heretofore debunked. Here is the “new” Cyril Wecht:
He makes multiple claims that are not only false but provably false and, in this case, not even anatomically possible. Let’s begin with his new “magic” bullet theory. We have the jacket and the shirt JFK was wearing, which have holes about 5.5″ below the collar to the right of the spinal column. We have J. Thorton Boswell’s autopsy diagram, which shows a wound to the body at the same location. We have the FBI sketch from the autopsy showing the wound to the back below the wound to the throat. We have Admiral Burkley’s death certificate, which attributes his death to a massive wound in the head but also describes a second wound to the back at the level of the third thoracic vertebra, which corresponds to the same location. We have the Warren Commission staff’s own reconstruction photographs (including the one that I presented above), we have the mortician’s description of a back wound “from five to six inches below the shoulder”–and we have David W. Mantik’s CAT scan study, which demonstrates the “magic bullet” theory is anatomically impossible because cervical vertebra intervene:
The Throat Wound
Incredibly, Wecht maintains not only that the “magic” bullet exited the front of JFK’s throat but that none of the doctors at Parkland observed the wound to his throat.That is quite remarkable, since Malcolm Perry, M.D., on the right, with Kemp Clark, M.D., the Director of Neurosurgery, who pronounced JFK dead at 1 PM, on the left,explained three times during the Parkland Press Conference that this wound was a wound of entry and that the bullet had been “coming at him”. Indeed, the wound to the throat and an entry wound at the right temple–which was with a frangible (or “exploding”) bullet that set up shock waves that blew his brains out the back of his head, which had already been weakened by a shot from behind–were widely broadcast on radio and television the day of the assassination. Although the Parkland Press Conference was not provided to the Warren Commission, I included it as an appendix to Assassination Science (1998), which Cyril Wecht has apparently never even read:
Moreover, I included diagrams that were drawn by Charles Crenshaw, M.D., who was present in Trauma Room #1 when JFK was being treated and then, two days later, was responsible for the care of his alleged assassin, Lee Oswald, in Trauma Room #2, of the throat wound both before and after the simple tracheotomy incision was made by Malcolm Perry, who was a very skilled surgeon. They appear as Appendix A, which is further proof that Cyril Wecht has never read (what many consider to be) the single most important collection of expert studies in the history of assassination research because of its objective, scientific proof that the X-rays had been altered and that another person’s brain had been substituted for that of John Fitzgerald Kennedy:
I make that claim because Assassination Science (1998) published David W. Mantik’s studies of the autopsy X-rays and Robert B. Livingston’s review of the drawings and photographs of the brain in the National Archives, where David Mantik was able to prove that the autopsy X-rays had been altered to conceal a massive blow-out at the back of the head and Bob Livingston, who was a world authority on the human brain, drew the evident inference–based upon the multiple consistent reports from Parkland of extruding cerebellar as well as cerebral tissue from the wound–that the virtually complete brain with an intact cerebellum shown in those diagrams and photographs could not possibly be the brain of John F. Kennedy. The very idea that a forensic pathologist of the standing of Cyril Wecht, widely regarded as an expert on the death of JFK, has either not read or has failed to appreciate their studies is stunning. There are many indications that he does not know the medical evidence.
The Back-of-the-Head Wound
There are additional reasons to infer that Cyril Wecht and the entire HSCA medical panel were extending the cover-up of the medical evidence in the assassination of JFK rather than exposing the truth. Wecht appears to be basing his version of the throat wound on a photograph that shows it as a large, gaping wound with irregular edges as opposed to the small, clean puncture wound observed at Parkland. This conflict is one of the reasons that David S. Lifton advanced the theory of body alteration in Best Evidence (1980), where he conjectured that both the throat wound and the back-of-the-head wound had been altered and expanded prior to the final version of the Bethesda autopsy report, where he has turned out to have been correct on both grounds. Compare what we see here with the reports and diagrams of Malcolm Perry and Charles Crenshaw. The difference is striking:
Not only that–where the enlargement of the throat would was done to create the impression of wound of exit as opposed to a wound of entry–but Charles Crenshaw, M.D., the last physician to observe the body before it was wrapped in sheets and gauze and place into the bronze, ceremonial casket, had closed JFK’s eyelids, which are open here. And notice the back of the head in the HSCA photograph, which displays an intact back of the head (with the skull flap extending to the right above the right ear) completely unlike the fist-sized blow-out observed at Parkland and by many other witnesses, including Clint Hill, which he has vividly described. David S. Lifton was the first to notice the striking difference between the wound as it was described and Parkland and as it is described in the Bethesda autopsy report, where I have expanded his diagram to include the HSCA version:
Only a few months ago, it struck me like a silver bullet that the HSCA surely had to account for the differences between the observations of the wound at Parkland and at Bethesda in order to arrive at its reconstruction of the real defect. The altered X-rays had been used in the past to deflect the multiple observations from both the physicians at Parkland and other witnesses from Dealey Plaza and elsewhere. But the difference between the description of the wound in the Bethesda autopsy report itself–which is specified in mathematical detail–now overwhelmed me. I knew that David Lifton had called an expert and read him that description to ask him what he thought had happened to the victim, to which he had replied that it sounded to him as though he had been hit in the head with an axe. So I called Cyril and asked him how the HSCA had accounted for the difference between the enormous wound described in the autopsy report (which represents at least 1/3 of the skull missing) and their reconstruction of a small entry wound at the top of the head. And he told me, “I’ll have to check my notes!”
Surgery to the head
That Lifton was correct has been confirmed by David Mantik’s studies of the X-rays, which were “patched” to conceal the blow-out at the back of the head, and by my discovery that you can actually see the wound itself in frame 374 of the Zapruder film. I had speculated that, since those who were revising the film at a secret CIA photo lab in Rochester, NY, adjacent to Kodak Headquarters, “Hawkeyeworks”, might have focused so much attention on the earlier frames following frame 313 that they overlooked that it could be seen in a later frame. It was a welcome development, which I emphasized inThe Great Zapruder Film Hoax (2003), but one of which Cyril Wecht appears to be similarly unaware. Consider these comparisons:
Indeed, the publication of Inside the ARRB (2009) by Douglas Horne, who served as the Senior Analyst for Military Records for the Assassination Records Review Board, disclosed that they had discovered that James Humes, the Navy medical officer in charge of the autopsy at Bethesda, had taken a cranial saw to the skull of JFK to enlarge it and make it appear more like the effect of a shot from behind. His performance, however, was observed by Thomas Evan Robinson, the mortician who would prepare the body for the formal state funeral on Monday, the 25th, and by Edward Reed, who was a photographer for the hospital. It would appear that Cyril Wecht has not bothered to read Douglas Horne’s 5-volume report of the findings of the ARRB, either, which only reinforces my impression of his enormous ignorance about the case.
The HSCA Contraction
As if further proof of the duplicity of the HSCA medical panel were required, in the reconstruction of the wound it advanced, the wound of entry, which had been placed by the Bethesda physicians at the lower right in the vicinity of the external occipital protuberance (the bump on the back of your head on which you would recline in a bathtub), has been moved four inches upward to the crown of the head and the back of the head–which had a major defect based on the Parkland descriptions and a massive missing section described by the Bethesda autopsy report–and has now been sanitized to look perfectly normal. That, of course, was what prompted me to call Cyril and ask how the panel had accounted for this enormous discrepancy.
Indeed, it is not even consistent with the Harper fragment, which is a triangular piece of occipital bone that was discovered the following day by medical student, Billy Harper, of which it is inconceivable that Cyril Wecht could be ignorant. But if Cyril Wecht is indeed aware of the existence of the Harper fragment, then how can he–in good conscience!–possibly have endorsed the HSCA reconstruction, which shows no blow-out at the back of the head and is there inconsistent with and falsified by the Harper fragment alone? Something is terribly, terribly wrong with the HSCA account of the medical evidence, which appears to be a complete and utter fantasy.
The Lifton critique
That Wecht’s position is not consistent with the available relevant evidence becomes even more apparent when he asserts that there were three shots, where the first enters JFK’s back (location not otherwise specified) and exits at his throat; the second fired from the grassy knoll causes his head to explode (as frame 313 of the extant Zapruder film displays), and the third makes a low entry point (presumably the one specified in the Bethesda autopsy report–the existence of which David Mantik has confirmed in Murder in Dealey Plaza (2000)–and exits through the hole created by the second shot, as David S. Lifton has very nicely represented here. (I would note that Wecht does not distinguish between shots that were fired and shots that hit, where it is easy to draw the inference that he is implicitly maintaining that only three shots were fired–and that all three of them hit!)
But while Mantik confirmed the existence of the entry in the vicinity of the external occipital protuberance that Humes and Boswell identified, he also established the existence of a second wound to the head, which entered around the right temple. It was the frangible (or “exploding”) bullet that created shock waves which blew his brains out the back of his head to the left/rear that, when they hit Officer Bobby Hargis riding there, he initially thought that he himself had been shot. But this hit occurred after the first head shot. And since we know that no bullet exited his throat and the location of the back wound, at least four shots hit JFK: the shallow wound to his back (which appears to have been fired from the top of the County Records Building); the entry wound to his throat (which appears to have been fired from the south end of the Triple Underpass); the shot that entered the back of his head at the external occipital protuberance (which appears to have been fired from the Dal-Tex); and the shot that entered at the right temple and set up shock waves that blew his brains out the back of his already weakened cranium (which appears to have been fired from the north end of the Triple Underpass) as follows:
Some lesser false assertions
While David S. Lifton and I do not agree on the shot scenario, we do agree that Cyril Wecht has presented a completely indefensible account of the assassination of JFK. That he should be advancing any version of the “magic” bullet theory in 2013 is simply incredible. Indeed, he has made a series of claims here that are simply untrue and, indeed, provably false, where the only question that remains is whether he was doing so with the knowledge that what he was asserting was false or in a state of ignorance about what we know to be the case with regard to the medical evidence in the assassination of JFK. Some of his remarks are rather innocuous by comparison with others, where he begins by claiming that “all of the critic researchers” are at his conference:
(Starts in the middle of a sentence. . . )Wecht: But, the answer to your question, in a broader sense, about the conference, is, that, we have been fortunate, to be able to bring together, all of the top critic researchers, who have been working on this case—some going back 40, 45 years; others, more recently.But we have, essentially, all of them.
But that is obviously false. He did not invite David S. Lifton, the author of Best Evidence(1980). He did not invite Jim Fetzer, the editor of Assassination Science (1998), ofMurder in Dealey Plaza (2000), and of The Great Zapruder Film Hoax (2003). He did not invite Douglas Horne, the author of Inside the ARRB (2009), which reports the findings of the Assassination Records Review Board. We are three of the most prominent critics of The Warren Report (1964) and of The HSCA Final Report (1979). He knows who we are and that we are not at his conference. So how can he (with a straight face) make such a blatantly false claim? And in relation to the throat wound, he claims that none of the Dallas doctors even noticed that JFK had a wound in his throat:
. . . one of the presenters this morning suggested, as has been by many others, that, uh, the shot in the front of the neck, was an entrance wound.And not an exit wound.You know, that was completely missed, by the doctors who did the autopsy that night.They never knew there was a gunshot wound of any kind, in the front of the neck.Because the doctors at Parkland had done a tracheostomy, you know, an incision, into the wind pipe. To facilitate breathing, feed in oxygen, take out carbon dioxide. . . .And, I’m going to quote in my presentation here today—I just got this yesterday, at a luncheon meeting, with a top medical person, that, who was with Dr. Perry, uhm, the chief surgeon, in 1986, when Dr. Perry had left Texas, and was now at Cornell, and Perry was speaking to a group there, at the hospital, and they were talking about the Warren Commission Report. And so on. And he (Perry) said: there was no question in his in his mind then, or in 1986, that that wound was a wound of entrance.
Just notice how deceptive this is: he does not mention that, during the Parkland Press Conference, Perry had three times described the wound as a wound of entry; or that Charles Crenshaw had drawn diagrams of the wound as it appeared both before and after the tracheotomy incision! And of course there are the claims he makes about his “three shot” scenario, where that number corresponds to the official account, yet he does not mention the shot that missed and injured James Tague, which was the reason why the Warren Commission had to resort to the extraordinary measure of introducing the “magic” bullet theory by having Gerald Ford (R-MI), then a junior member of the commission, change the description of the wound from “his upper most back”, which was already an exaggeration, to “the base of the back of his neck” in order to make it more plausible. But, as an expert on the “magic” bullet theory, how is it possible that Cyril Wecht could have failed to explain all this?
Cyril’s “three shot” scenario
The most egregious claims made by Cyril Wecht during this interview, however, revolve about his depiction of the assassination of JFK. He asserts that the president was hit three times, when it was actually four, but where his half “magic” bullet theory converts the throat wound observe at Parkland from a wound of entry into a wound of exit, which follows The Warren Report (1964) scenario. As Lifton has observed, this account does not address the evidence of body alteration (both by expanding the neck wound and by enormously enlarging the back-of-the-head wound), which is powerful proof that Wecht doesn’t have it right. More disturbing is that he doesn’t even seem to have a clue of what has been established about the assassination since the HSCA:
Q: So: how many times was the president shot?CW: The President was shot three times—once, striking him in the back,Q: That’s the first shot—CW (continuing)and exiting from the front of his neck; . . . yeah, that’s the shot you see when he emerges from behind the Stemmons Freeway sign, and his hands come up in this kind of defensive posture. Then, we’re talking about the two head shots that follow shortly thereafter.Q: And the first, the second shot to the head—the first shot to the head (which is the second overall shot)—what part of the head did that hit?CW: That hit in the right fronto-temporal area—just a slightly in front of –-(shakes head in affirmation)CW (continuing, shaking his head in affirmation):. . .that’s the shot from the grassy knoll.Q: And the third shot, which is the second shot—CW (interrupting, with emphasis): That’s from the rear.CW: That’s from the rear. And that hits him in the head. Yes. Absolutely.Q: Which of those two shots caused his head to explode as we. .CW: Oh, the first shot is the one that produces the tremendous explosion.The second bullet enters and makes a more discrete hole of entrance, and then just exits out through the huge defect already created by the first head shot.Q: So that, ., .(jumbled) we do see his clutch.CW: Oh yeah, That’s the shot that entered his back. (Right).Q: Was That shot was Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet?CW: Well, uh, from the rear.Whether its Oswald, or–Q: (unintelligible)CW : No no. And that’s not an evidentiary burden that I or others have to assume.I personally believe it wasn’t Oswald.He was a patsy, and we’ll be getting into that in great detail tomorrow (10/18) and Saturday (10/19)But, yes, from the rear.
And he congratulates himself for having posited the existence of a shooter from the grassy knoll, which, oddly enough, was also posited by the HSCA in its Final Report(1979), but according to the HSCA that shooter missed! So Cyril Wecht has offered a variation that comes across as very much like The Warren Report (1964) and, if it “rocks the boat”, it does so only very gently, where no serious questions arise about the enormous discrepancy in the accounts of the head wound as it was observed at Parkland, described in the Bethesda autopsy report and then reconstituted by the HSCA, where in response to my question of how the HSCA had explained these stunning discrepancies, he dismissed my inquiry by telling me, “I’ll have to check my notes!”
I have a case right now. .Q: (interrupting)Which is to dismiss the theory of Lee Harvey Oswald being a sole assassin.CW A sole assassin.You see, the Government can’t touch that, because the moment, you see, that you’ve got a second shooter, somebody presenting on the acoustics, and referring to other people who acknowledge that there was a shot fired from the grassy knoll, but they couldn’t say, as acoustics experts, whether it struck anything.[But] I don’t care . . . whether it struck anything. (laughs, then pauses) I mean, I care. But what I’m saying is—you got a shooter!And this is the burden, you see, that the Warren Commission people, the defenders, the supporters, the sycophants, have to contend with.
The Verdict on Cyril Wecht
Cyril Wecht may be the most famous medical examiner on the planet. There are few, if any, who could rival him here in the United States, although Michael Baden might come close. It is therefore fascinating that Baden has acknowledged that the falsity of the “magic” bullet theory implies the existence of at least six shots from three directions, which we have determined to be true: JFK was hit by four shots, one missed and injured the distant bystander, James Tague, and there were one to three shots that hit John Connally. In addition, there were at least two more shots that missed, one of which hit the chrome strip above the limousine windshield and another, which appears to have been fired from the grassy knoll, was picked up in the grass opposite the knoll.
What I cannot understand is how a man who has spent his career as a medical examiner and as the coroner for Allegheny County, who has been involved in some of the most high-profile cases in American history, and who is sought out as an expert on the assassination of JFK, could possibly have ignored the observations of the man who prepared the body for the formal state funeral, which would be held on Monday, 25 November 1963, and who spent more time with the body than anyone else, including the physicians at Parkland and at Bethesda. Because here is what he told Joe West about the condition of the body during its preparation for a funeral, which was at the time expected to be open-casket, but where the absence of damage to the front of head, especially the right/front, would have caused problems with the cover-up and where the casket therefore remained closed:
Notice that Thomas Evan Robinson, the mortician, observed (1) a massive gaping wound at the back of the head; (2) a smaller wound in the right temple; (3) the crescent shaped, 3″ flapped down; (4) small shrapnel wounds in the face; and (5) a wound in the back five to six inches below the shoulder to the right of the spinal column, where (1) appears to have been the blow-out, (2) the entry wound, (3) the skull flap seen in the HSCA diagrams and photographs (but also in frame 374), (4) small wounds that David W. Mantik has inferred–quite brilliantly, in my opinion–were caused by shards of glass that accompanied the bullet that passed through the windshield before hitting JFK in the throat, and (5) the wound to the back that corresponds to the holes in the jacket, the shirt, the autopsy report, the FBI diagram, Admiral Burkely’s death certificate and the reenactment photographs of the Warren Commission staff. Do we need any more proof that Cyril Wecht is either completely uninformed about the medical evidence or else is deliberately misleading the public when he knows better?
David S. Lifton is the author of the New York Times’ best seller, Best Evidence(1980), where we agree that Cyril Wecht appears to want to take the state of research back to 1979 before he (Lifton) cracked the cover-up.
Jim Fetzer, McKnight Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is the editor of three collections of studies by experts on different aspects of the assassination of JFK, which he regards as sequels to Lifton’s pioneering work. [NOTE: This is one in a series of articles being republished since veterans today.com deleted them in a dispute with its Senior Editor, Gordon Duff, about which I have since written several articles.]