S.typing in his office Interview Cyril When I was looking for a profile to write for the Pittsburgh Quarterly, I expected to meet the intense, stormy, and controversial person who had so often been featured on the evening news. To me at the time, Cyril was just another loud-mouthed officer who had been subjected to corruption charges and had never met a television camera that he disliked.
Like many Pittsburghers, my attitude towards Allegheny County’s tireless and talkative coroner was shaped by the selective exposure of the local media. But the man I found that day turned out to be a confident, amazingly sharp, polite, and overworked gentleman in his eighties who had suffered for decades from the slings and arrows of a multitude of political opponents and other critics and who definitely had the desire to to tell his side of his story.
Cyril was born on March 20, 1931 in Bobtown, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Pittsburgh’s Lower Hill District. He had a happy and busy youth. He helped out in his family’s modest grocery store. He excelled in school, had intense violin lessons, and participated in a variety of sports – not to mention his share of teenage hijinks.
Cyril and his friends had their own rites Passage, one of which was sneaking into the Allegheny County’s coroner office to see a dead bodyies that may appear. Sometimes the bodies lay on trolleys, waiting to be identified by the family or to be picked up by local funeral directors. Cyril admits it was a little scary because some of the fresher bodies were still dripping blood.
Like so many of those who came from working-class families during WWII, Cyril knew that success in America would depend only on personal effort and tenacity. With no pillow, no inheritance, he was driven, passionate, and ceaselessly active, wishing for all knowledge and experience. And while the course of his life would twist and turn and his fortunes rise and fall, his belief in himself never wavered. His life is proof of the resilience of the human spirit.
Over lunch the day after my profile was posted, Cyril went into great detail on the events of his life, including some of the many famous cases in which he had played a role: the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert; the case of Claus von Bülow, the foreign-born celebrity convicted of attempted murder of his wife (whose sentence was later overturned with Cyril’s help); the unsolved death of JonBenét Ramsey; the US government’s incineration of the Branch Davidians; the beliefs of “family exterminators” Scott Peterson and Lyle and Erik Menendez; and the strange death of music stars Elvis Presley and Kurt Cobain.
Despite his impressive casework, Cyril spoke most passionately about the federal corruption case brought against him in 2006 for alleged misuse of his public office. Mind you, the man has a photographic memory for names, places, dates, and sometimes even phone numbers. And when he continued to tell all the details he could remember about his sensational trial, I interrupted him and said innocently: “Maybe you should write about it,” to which Cyril replied, “But I don’t have time. I wonder if anyone would help me with this. “I said,” Well, I might just be ready to take that. “
As I approached Cyril and his life story, I started not with the legend, but with the man himself. Before doing interviews with Cyril’s many and formidable colleagues and supporters – Oliver Stone, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee. Bailey, Alec Baldwin, and Geraldo Rivera to name a few – I’ve spent more than 40 hours collecting the thoughts of Cyril himself, following his personal story, and covering the highlights of his career in the spotlight and out of the spotlight. But it wasn’t until hour 15 that I saw him sigh, look at the floor and tell me not what he thought about his life and career, but what he felt. Only then did I know we had a book in the works. And this book, which Cyril and I wrote together, is now available and is entitled “The Life and Death of Cyril Wecht”.
Overall, as a coroner and private consultant, he has probably performed more autopsies – 21,000 – than any other forensic pathologist in the country. He has audited and / or overseen another 41,000. But even after nearly 60 years of working in morgues and laboratories, there are things you just can’t get used to, including some sights and smells. But it’s the work that he does. The most important thing for Cyril is never to lose the knowledge that these are dead people. Someone, somewhere, at some point, loved these people, so all autopsies, by anyone, must be treated with dignity and respect.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Cyril is his energy level. In the end, none of us could explain that. It is just like that. For example, he was skiing with his family in Colorado during his children’s spring break in 1975, a few years after the New York Times bombshell story about President Kennedy’s missing brain (which Cyril was the source), a phone call from TV host Geraldo Rivera, whom he had never met and who asked him to appear on a program about the JFK assassination. He accepted. Cyril first drove his rental car from Vail to Denver Airport. At that time he had to cross a high mountain pass to leave the Skiland. When his car got stuck, he was taken away by a trucker. He flew to New York, appeared on TV, had dinner with Geraldo at a French restaurant, and then rushed back to the airport to return to Denver, Vail and his family late into the night.