Jack Davis, Jr.
Legendary forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht tackles a suspicious death on a peaceful college campus.
Dr. Cyril Wecht performed the second autopsy
Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht can read a dead body the way most people read a book. Wecht has performed some 14,000 autopsies and consulted on or reviewed another 30,000—including the autopsies of Elvis Presley and JonBenet Ramsey. Dr. Wecht was also called as an expert witness by the congressional committee investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Although Dr. Wecht is often involved in the most high-profile and controversial cases, he has also assisted smaller scale investigations. Among those was the suspicious death of Jack Davis, Jr., a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Authorities found Jack’s body on a Wednesday evening. He was sprawled at the bottom of a stairwell next to a classroom building. Jack had last been seen the previous Friday at a party with some of his fraternity brothers.
Jack's body was autopsied by a local pathologist. The results were sent to County Coroner Thomas Streams. This is how Streams described his ruling that Jack’s death was accidental:
“The body was not in disarray from a fight. There was no sign of defensive wounds, as a struggle. There were no drag marks. There was just nothing remarkable about the body. The scenario was that Mr. Davis wandered down into the stairwell in an intoxicated state, perhaps to urinate, collapsed in an unconscious state, vomited, inhaled the vomitus into his lungs, which therefore then subsequently caused his death.”
There were questions about the initial findings
The official report concluded that Jack died early Saturday morning, several hours after he was last seen. According to the official account, Jack’s body remained in the stairwell for nearly five days…from his death on Saturday morning until his body was discovered on Wednesday evening.
Jack’s family doubted the official determination. When a local journalist began publicly questioning the ruling, the family turned to Dr. Wecht for a second opinion. Even before he began his forensic workup, Dr. Wecht found problems with the official scenario:
“I was puzzled as a matter of common sense. How could a body have been lying outside on a college campus…for 5 or more days unseen, unnoticed by anybody? The other thing that puzzled me was I thought, ‘Gee, why would a young man in the early hours of the morning walk 15 steps down a landing and another five steps to urinate?’ I remember when I went to college and I remember what young men will do when they have to urinate, if they are inebriated. Not too many people have that kind of discretion and personal sensitivity. So that did not fit either.”
Jack’s body was later exhumed
Dr. Wecht soon found discrepancies in the toxicology report. Jack was known to be drinking heavily on the night he supposedly died, yet absolutely no alcohol was found in his blood. Dr. Wecht knew that was scientifically impossible if he died on Saturday morning:
“Whatever level you have at the time of your death will be the level that will be found later on. In order for him to have wound up with no alcohol in his blood at the time of death, he would’ve had to have been alive for about 30 hours. The fact then, that there was no alcohol in his blood, indicates to me that he did not die at that time when they theorized he had fallen down the steps.”
That extra 30 hours would put Jack’s death on Sunday afternoon—not Saturday morning. Dr. Wecht found additional evidence that indicted the official story.
Jack had been clean-shaven Friday night when he was last seen, but when his body was found, there was heavy stubble on his face. He had to have been alive for a significant time—perhaps days—beyond Saturday morning in order for his beard to grow.
And, Dr. Wecht described one final discrepancy -- the autopsy slides of Jack’s lungs proved that the young man could not possibly have choked to death on regurgitated food:
“If you're going to list that as a cause of death, you've got to find food particles deep down inside the small terminal air passageways, and that wasn't present. The other thing about the autopsy that really stood out for me was the fact that the head had not been examined. The pathologist who did the autopsy had not opened up the cranial vault.”
Dr. Wecht reviewed the autopsy slides
After hearing Dr. Wecht’s initial findings, Jack’s family considered bolder action. Jack’s mother their thinking:
“We all agreed—as a family and with Dr. Wecht—that the body needed to be exhumed. It was the only way we would find out the true cause of death.
After performing the autopsy, Dr. Wecht proposed an entirely different cause for Jack’s death:
“When I opened up the skull, I found 3 fractures, 3 areas of skull fracture with significant bleeding overlying the brain. It's a blood clot. It's a pooling of blood. And that was the cause of death, which had never been appreciated because the head had never been examined in the first autopsy.”
Dr. Wecht also investigated the alleged site of Jack’s death, the stairwell where his body was found. Wecht wanted to see if the location could somehow validate the official finding that Jack had died from a fall in the stairwell. Wecht’s personal observations confirmed his doubts about the “stairwell” scenario:
“I realized that that body could not have accidentally fallen or been thrown from high up, because he would have had eggshell, depressed-type fractures. Similarly, it did not appear that he had stumbled down the steps, because there was no pattern of abrasions and bruises, and so that did not fit.”
Dr. Wecht then visited a classroom located directly above the stairwell where Jack’s body was found and looked out the window. Some 200 students had passed through the rooms during that time. The view of the stairwell was unobstructed. Yet not a single student had reported seeing a body.
There was one final problem with the official finding of accidental death. During the two days before Jack's body was found, heavy rain fell on the campus. Yet, Jack’s clothing was bone dry. To Dr. Wecht, that was another glaring inconsistency in the official finding:
“Jack's clothes were not wet. I would say it is more likely that Jack Davis died elsewhere or was injured elsewhere and then was placed at the bottom of those steps. I base this upon the known facts.”
Others have come to the same conclusion as Dr. Wecht. Local journalists Marlene Brennan and Sharon Santus investigated the death. Brennan theorizes that Jack may have been caught up in a feud between two rival fraternities:
“Some students report that there were up to 5 fights that night. And it could be possible that he was involved in one of them and he was injured and someone didn't know what to do with him. So they kept him somewhere thinking he might get better…and he didn't, and then they moved him to the stairwell.”Local authorities have not changed their findings in the case. But based on the forensic evidence amassed by Dr. Cyril Wecht, Jack’s family remains convinced he died in an entirely different manner. They remain equally convinced that someone who attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania knows what happened. They are hoping that someone will come forward.