"Dear JFK Assassination Researcher," reads the letter from Cyril Wecht, the long-time Allegheny County coroner who resigned in January following a federal indictment.
"By now, I'm certain you are aware of the serious legal problems with which I have been confronted in recent weeks," the letter opens: Wecht faces 84 counts for allegedly using his county office for private gain. "Unfortunately, the legal defense that I must mount all the way through a prolonged trial will be astronomically expensive. But I have no choice. My entire life is literally at stake ... personally, professionally and financially."
The letter, which asks for contributions to Wecht's legal defense, appears on the Web site of the Mary Ferrell Foundation (www.maryferrell.org) and other groups dedicated to finding unofficial explanations for the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It then concludes with a postscript worthy of the conspiracy genre:
"There is no particular reason to believe that my four-decade-long search for the truth in the assassination of John F. Kennedy is the cause of this prosecution," it acknowledges. "[B]ut neither is there reason to believe that resistance to that work is not one of the government's motivating factors. It is of note, for instance, that the F.B.I. has seized all of my JFK assassination files and correspondence, even though none of the allegations against me have been related in any way to that case."
Do assassination buffs think there could be a connection between Wecht's troubles and his conjectures about JFK's killing? "There's certainly a little of that feeling ... people wondering if there's a little more at play here," says Rex Bradford, senior analyst at the Mary Ferrell Foundation. Bradford found the fund-raising letter at the Coalition on Political Assassination and various e-mail lists dedicated to similar causes.
Ferrell, who died in 2004, was an active JFK researcher "for basically her whole life since 1963," says Bradford. She and Wecht "knew each other," he adds. Thus, Wecht's letter was "worthwhile to put it up on our site. ... His fate is of interest to people."
Wecht referred inquiries about the letter to his attorney, Mark Rush.
"Cyril didn't personally send out these letters," Rush says, "but there is a loose group of what I'll call 'Friends of Wecht,'" who likely are responsible. Rush, who had seen the letter before, knows that the Coalition on Political Assassination "has been very supportive." (Mysteriously, although the Coalition is referenced on many Web sites such as anomalynews.com and parapolitics.info, its own Web site proved harder to track down.)
Wecht may not be sitting at a computer, sending off these letters himself, but he "probably did" draft it, Rush allows. The tip-off might be the letter's most classically Wechtian line: "Your financial assistance in this critical matter would be deeply appreciated and, together with similar contributions from other key individuals, might even prove life-saving."