CAUSE OF DEATH by Cyril Wecht


The Final Diagnosis
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 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 several lesser-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)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-525-93661-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1993


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