Legendary forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht tackles a suspicious death on a peaceful college campus.
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 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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.