John F. Kennedy Jr.’s family may have “instigated an immediate cover-up of the truth” in the wake of the tragic plane crash that killed the magazine publisher; his wife, Carolyn Bessette; and sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, on July 16, 1999. Episode 12, the final segment of the “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” podcast, examines the coroner’s report for JFK Jr.’s autopsy and reveals it is “full of holes.”
Jeff Guzzetti of the National Transportation Safety Board was part of the investigating team on the case and he says “their work was meticulous — and exhaustive,” unlike the report completed by the medical examiners. The coroner’s report is only one page long, and seemingly suggests a proper procedural autopsy was never completed after the crash. “It confirms he’s dead, but says nothing more,” claims investigative journalist James Robertson. “If this flimsy excuse for a coroner’s report on JFK Jr.’s body sounds like a rush job, that’s because it was,” adds podcast host and ex-homicide detective Colin McLaren.
The Kennedy family didn’t appear to be concerned by the questionable investigation. In fact, they seemed to encourage it. The bodies of JFK Jr., Carolyn and Lauren were recovered on July 21, 1999 — five days after the crash — examined that afternoon, and cremated just hours later. By the next morning, their ashes had been scattered at sea, which meant they couldn’t be re-examined at a later point in time. “My recollection is that the family tried not even to have autopsies done,” forensic examiner Cyril Wecht shares.
There was also an apparent lack of information included in the toxicology report. “Now, you have to remember the bodies were not recovered for days and they were at the bottom of the ocean. And there’s just so much you can get from the toxicology,” explains Guzzetti. The report determined the pilot and passengers died from multiple injuries as a result of the airplane accident.
“They did draw samples, whatever samples they could find for toxicological testing. Those tests came back negative for alcohol and drugs,” he reveals. This finding is perplexing as JFK Jr. had been taking painkillers for an injured ankle in the weeks leading up to the fatal crash. So, what does that mean?
“Well, it means that he didn’t take them before he left,” Wecht says. “Maybe he didn’t take them because they didn’t want to be under the influence of barbiturates [while flying].”
McLaren explains the samples were subsequently spoiled, and JFK Jr.’s body was cremated quickly, indicating the truth could have been intentionally hidden. “Something very telling,” Wecht shares, is JFK Jr. “would not be the first Kennedy to have his coroner’s report adjusted” to tell a different story.
“It did play out with John F. Kennedy, who has suffered from Addison’s Disease, and you will find in the autopsy report, there is no mention of the adrenal glands, which is the seat of the major pathological process involved in people suffering from Addison’s Disease,” the forensic examiner reveals. “There you have a direct, obvious, unquestionable proof of what I’m saying … The family’s control. Do not mention the adrenal glands! Even if he’s dead, we don’t want people to know that he has Addison’s Disease.”
McLaren says the sad and terrible truth is the lawyer “was not qualified or competent enough to fly his plane that night, in those conditions, and with his injured ankle … but he did so anyway.”
For this decision, JFK Jr. paid the “ultimate price,” the podcast host concludes. “But for me, the real disappointment is what happened next. From everything I’ve learned about after the deaths of JFK Jr., Carolyn and Lauren, it seems that the Kennedys themselves instigated an immediate cover-up of the truth — simply to preserve the mythology of the family name.”
Listen to all 12 of the “Fatal Voyage: The Death of JFK Jr.” podcast episodes here, exploring everything from his public persona to the darker side of his life.