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Cause of Death: A Leading Forensic Expert Sets the Record Straight

Cause of Death: A Leading Forensic Expert Sets the Record Straight

by Cyril H. Wecht, Mark Curriden, Benjamin Wecht

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If you like conspiracies, red herrings and convoluted reasoning, you'll love this book. Wecht, a forensic pathologist, has testified in cases argued by the likes of F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz. This book, though interesting in parts, is uneven as it rehashes cases involving famous and not so famous deaths. Wecht opens with the three Kennedy brothers: JFK was not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald alone; there was someone on the grassy knoll, he contends. Wecht discusses the mystery of JFK's missing brain (he indicates that Robert Kennedy may have taken it) and even suggests that the President's body should be exhumed. As for Robert Kennedy, Wecht acknowledges that a slug taken from RFK's neck was traced to Sirhan Sirhan's gun, but states that Sirhan did not kill RFK. Regarding Ted Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, Wecht notes that ``there's very little new information or evidence,'' yet he regurgitates theories dealing with the botched investigation. Other celebrity cases involve Jeffrey MacDonald, Jean Harris and Claus von Bulow--all of whom he believes to be innocent of the crimes of which they're accused. And he does a thorough work-up on Elvis Presley. Photos. (Nov.)
William Beatty
In this fascinating book, a forensic pathologist relates his experiences with a dozen murders or supposed murders. As he does, he makes clear the education, experience, and character needed to make a good medical examiner as well as what such an individual should do. Although his case studies are the kind that encourage lurid treatment, Wecht deals primarily with hard evidence and his own substantial involvement when sloppy work by police and coroners made solutions either much harder or impossible. Those whose deaths Wecht reports on range from John F. Kennedy (whose case consumes one-fifth of the text) through Elvis Presley to Delbert Ward, who was made famous by the award-winning documentary film, "Brother's Keeper". Who was the second shooter in Dallas (Wecht does not buy the conspiracy theory)? Who was the second shooter with Sirhan? What actually happened at Chappaquiddick? Such are the questions Wecht sought to answer. Especially interesting are the cases of Dr. Charles Friedgood ("one of [Wecht's] most bizarre cases"), of Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald, M.D. (the most troubling for Wecht), and of others whose demises are less renowned but as provocative.
Kirkus Reviews
Patricia D. Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta may rule the roost of fictional pathologists but, in the real world, Wecht is lord of the morgue. Here, the past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences presents a compelling casebook of his forays, often as an expert defense witness, into some of the most controversial deaths of our time. Wecht offers a meticulous rundown of the forensic evidence in each death and what it indicates, beginning with his longtime passion, the JFK killing: "My opinion of the Warren Commission report: it is absolute nonsense!" Wecht, in fact, is the man who dubbed the Commission's stance "the magic bullet" theory and who discovered that JFK's brain was missing from the autopsy files (it's still missing). His run-through of the evidence seeds no new theories, though he does reveal that the KGB's official report on the killing fingered Oswald as a CIA informant and assumed a conspiracy. More prickly is his next summation, on the death of RFK: "It was not Sirhan Sirhan who killed Senator Robert Kennedy"—a conclusion Wecht reached after reviewing autopsy files ("I knew the bullet that entered behind the senator's right ear was shot from behind or beside him...Sirhan was at all times in front of him"). In like vein, Wecht sifts through the detritus of death in the Jean Harris/Herman Tarnower killing ("an accident"); the Claus von Bulow case (Sonny von Bulow, "a walking pharmacy," overdosed herself); Jeffrey MacDonald ("the weight of the evidence leans against him" but "gut feeling" points to innocence); Mary Jo Kopechne ("accidental drowning"); Elvis (Wecht replays his revelation that the King died from drugs, not a bad heart); and severallesser-known cases. Outspoken, provocative, persuasively argued: a full platter for true-crime fans who won't mind—or may even enjoy—looking over Wecht's shoulder as he takes scalpel and buzz-saw to yet another corpus delicti. (Eight page b&w photo insert—not seen)

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Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
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9.26(w) x 6.24(h) x 1.24(d)

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