The recent 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) has reignited a sudden wide-spread interest in theories and conspiracies surrounding his death. The “rebirth” of these theories brings to mind the role played by Dr. James A. Cottone, Beta Pi ’66, in debunking one of these conspiracies.

Eighteen years after the death of JFK on November 22, 1963, a conspiracy theory arose that JFK was not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (Oswald). Rather, a Russian agent posing as Oswald did the killing. Two days later, Oswald was assassinated by Jack Ruby.

Oswald was interred at Rose Hill Cemetery, Fort Worth, Texas. A British journalist, believing the theory to be true, was willing to pay all the costs associated with an exhumation and autopsy to prove his theory. Before Oswald could be exhumed, permission had to be granted by the next of kin, Oswald’s wife Marina. Marina had her own doubts as to who was really buried in the grave and chose not to oppose the exhumation provided the journalist paid all the costs. However, Oswald’s brother opposed the procedure. When the brother realized how much it would cost in legal fees, and in consideration of the anxiety of the family related to the publicity, he withdrew his objections. The exhumation took place on October 5, 1981.

Upon exhumation, due to a crack in the casket causing moisture to enter, the body was found to be badly decomposed. However, a small team of forensic dentists, led in part by brother Cottone, conducted a forensic examination of the body’s teeth and determined that the dental charts of Oswald matched the teeth in the body beyond a reasonable doubt. In consideration of the forensic dental findings and means of identification from other body parts, it was determined that the body was that of Lee Harvey Oswald.

After graduating from Penn, brother Cottone earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts. During the Vietnam War, he served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Dental Corps. Following his release from service, he obtained a Master of Science degree in Dental Medicine at Indiana University. He then became a member of the faculty at the Texas School of Dentistry in San Antonio, Texas. When he retired, he was a full Professor.

Prior to his retirement, he was a major contributor to the field of Oral Medicine, Infection Control, Forensic Dentistry, and AIDS research. He was a sought-after lecturer on these topics at national and international conventions for fellow dentists. As an author, he authored Practical Infection Control in Dentistry, a reference book for practicing dentists, and Outline of Forensic Dentistry.

At Penn, brother Cottone was an extremely active member of Beta Pi, including a term as Vice President.