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Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 2003 / 29 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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'We'll learn the truth someday' 10 minutes with JFK expert Cyril Wecht | It's not just 75 percent of the American public that doesn't buy the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole assassin of John F. Kennedy.

According to Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht, one of the world's experts on Kennedy's murder, most investigators, independent researchers and pre-eminent forensic scientists like him now believe Kennedy was hit by two shooters in Dallas 40 years ago today.

Many of those experts are in town for "Solving the Great American Murder Mystery," a national four-day conference on the JFK assassination on the Duquesne University campus. It runs through Sunday and is co-sponsored by the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law and Duquesne University School of Law. I talked with Dr. Wecht this week by telephone:

Q: What are some of the most important things that are known for sure by experts that do not jibe with Warren Commission's findings?

A: The most significant and most important is the so-called "single-bullet theory." What doesn't fit in are the following aspects of the single-bullet theory: its trajectory, its weight and its condition.

The trajectory is a roller-coaster ride of vertical and horizontal movements and gyrations that obviously bullets in flight do not make. The bullet's weight was just 11/2 percent exactly less than a store-bought bullet, despite fragments of the bullet having been left — and being radiologically demonstrable — in Gov. John Connolly's chest, right wrist and left thigh.

And the condition of the bullet, which, after having broken four inches of the right fifth rib and causing a fracture of the distal radius — a very dense heavy bone, especially in a 6-foot-4 guy like John Connolly — emerged intact, near pristine. Those are the reasons why the single-bullet theory is implausible.

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The second big thing is the head wound. The movement of the president's body in the car, which is a violent lurching backward to the left, is incompatible with basic laws of physics and known ballistic firearm studies, namely, that if a bullet had struck him in the head — only that one bullet — it would not have driven backward and to the left.

With regard to the head wound, X-ray studies by some very experienced, highly competent radiologists, correlated with the findings of myself and other physicians, lean very heavily toward the president having been struck in the head twice in a synchronized fashion. Simultaneous shots: one from the rear and one from the right front side.

Q: What is it that complicates this mystery? Shouldn't it be easy for a forensic expert like you to look at Kennedy's head and determine what happened 40 years ago?

A: Yes. Very good question. And the answer is that this should not be a mystery. The reason it's a mystery is, to begin with, the two naval pathologists, Humes and Boswell, who performed this autopsy (in Bethesda, Md.), had never done a gunshot wound case in their entire careers.

The pictures that were taken were inadequate in number and quality in the depiction of the wounds. They did not have good forensic photography. They did not have good X-rays.

And then you have the failure to examine the brain .... which led subsequently somehow to the mysterious disappearance of the brain. I pointed that out — it was a front page story Aug, 27, 1972, New York Times, Fred Graham, "The Missing Brain." And 31 years later, the brain is still unaccounted for.

Oh, I forget to mention another thing. There are some X-rays and some photos that are missing. I mean matters of record. I'm not conjecturing or making wild assertions. There are documented instances of other photographs and other X-rays that have not been accounted for. And microscopic slides are missing from the National Archives.

So you put all these things together, and you can then appreciate better why there is so much continuing controversy today.

Q: Was it or is it still a conscious government cover-up?

A: I think it is. It's a combination. First of all, let me separate all of which I have discussed, and that which I shall also now respond to, from the original conspiracy to kill the president. I don't believe for one moment that all these people and all these things I've discussed have anything to do with the plan to kill the president.

Forget that it's a violation of numerous laws. But by removing the body from Dallas, they took it away from a competent, board-certified forensic pathologist who was there at the hospital to assume jurisdiction with the local coroner and perform the autopsy.

Q: If a president were shot today, would they still be able to move his body like that?

A: Yes, they did pass a law subsequently, and I think it is limited to the president. But there was no law at that time.

Q: So was it a conscious government cover-up?

A: Later, in my opinion, there were things that were consciously done. I don't believe for one moment that people with the power, experience, political savvy, contacts, arm-twisting abilities that were present with Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover — the closest thing we ever had to Beria and the KGB of old Russia — there did not come a time between the two of them that they could not figure this out.

At this point, that all becomes what I would call "the second conspiracy." Now, we move into the cover-up — not designed to protect Mister A or Mister B, but designed, once it became determined that Moscow, Beijing and Havana, the Russians, Chinese and Cubans, individually or collectively, were not responsible for this assassination, then they came to understand and appreciate darn fast that this was good-old, home-grown American conspiracy.

Where is that going to take you? You have the CIA here. We've got the FBI there. We've got other covert operations and clandestine operations and spook organizations, and the conscious decision was made — "The King is dead. Long live the king. We can't bring him back. It's over and done with. We got Oswald. He's dead and gone with. There's never going to be a trial. Forget about it. It's better for America. Just let it be."

Q: If we hadn't had the Zapruder film, would there still have been enough evidence to question all of this?

A: The Zapruder film, in my opinion, is the single most important piece of evidence in this case. Without it, we would be markedly handicapped. .... We would be nowhere near able to make the substantive challenge we can. But there still would have been other things out there to legitimately talk about from a forensic-scientific standpoint.

Q: Will we ever learn the truth — and will we be able to take it?

A: We'll learn the truth someday, I do believe. But with painful realism, I think it's not going to be in my lifetime. I think it's going to take one or two more generations in order to attenuate that thread, that umbilical cord, so that the people who are in the responsible governmental agencies and so on will have no personal knowledge, will in no way be beholding to anyone who may have been there.... I just don't think the government is ready for it.

Are we ready for it? The American people, yes. We would handle it. But there would be a great deal of unhappiness and unrest, and I think that a lot of changes would be demanded.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald