Recently someone sent me an email asking me “Do you really believe Oswald killed Kennedy?” This is probably due to the recent post I made about the assassination. I have to admit that I’m not really an expert on the topic, but I have always been fascinated by it, especially in the context of how the events mushroomed into what might be called the granddaddy of all conspiracy theory topics. It is true that a huge number of people believe there was a conspiracy involving the government, mafia, Cubans, Soviets or others, and it has spawned its own kind of subculture and a veritable cottage industry of books, documentaries and websites.
The writer of the email asked me a few basic questions about the evidence against Oswald. The questions are interesting in that they point to some very fundamental points of evidence in the case, which are often lost on many who have looked at the assassination. In many ways, the public is most ignorant of just how compelling the case is against Oswald.
Question 1: Was there any forensic evidence that tied Oswald to the assassination?
Yes, tons of it. Very very compelling forensic evidence. Here are just some of the more important pieces of evidence.
- When police entered the 6th floor of the School Book Depository, they found what was dubbed the “Sniper’s Nest,” an area near a window where boxes had been moved to provide a hiding place where a sniper could watch and shoot from. Boxes were even stacked in a manner to produce a place to rest the stock of a rifle. The boxes in the area were dusted for fingerprints. Some of the prints found were from various employees of the building, a few were unidentified (perhaps from delivery persons) but only one individual’s finger prints were found all over virtually all of the boxes – Lee Harvey Oswald.
- Also on the 6th floor, investigators discovered a rifle. It could literally be called the “smoking gun” because when it was found the barrel was still warm and it still smelled of gunpowder; it had clearly recently been fired. The rifle, a 6.5mm high power Mannlicher-Carcanobelonged to Lee Harvey Oswald. It was traced by its serial number back to the distributor who had sold it to Oswald. Oswald had purchased the rifle using the allies “A. Hidel,” but the post office box it was shipped to was registered to Oswald. The order form was eventually found and determined to be in Oswald’s handwriting. If that’s not enough, Oswald had his wife take two photographs of him with the rifle. Analysis of these photos demonstrated that this is indeed the same rifle, as is apparent from defects in the wood and the grain pattern.
- Oswald’s palm print was found on the rifle. An additional fingerprint impression was found on the barrel of the rifle in a location where it could only be placed when the gun was partially disassembled, as this area is not accessible once all the pieces are put together.
- Several tufts of fibers were found on the wooden stock of the rifle. These were examined by the FBI hair and fiber laboratory and found to be consistent with the shirt Oswald had been wearing on the day of the assassination, the shirt he was still wearing when apprehended.
- The bullets and bullet fragments recovered by investigators were subjected to ballistic analysis. Two of the slugs were in good enough condition to conclusively show that they were fired from Oswald’s rifle. In the 1970’s, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had the bullets and bullet fragments subjected to neutron activation analysis. This method of analysis provided precise measurements of the chemical and isotopic composition of the lead in the bullets. It proved that all recovered fragments were from the same batch of bullets, the same batch used by Oswald. No fragment recovered from the limousine, Governor Connolly, President Kennedy’s body or the area where shots struck the ground have ever been shown to have come from different ammunition.
Question 2: Did anyone actually see Oswald shoot the president?
YES! Believe it or not, there were spectators who had a clear, unobstructed view of Oswald shooting the rifle out of the Texas School Book Depository window. They saw him well enough to even provide a basic description. This is one reason why Oswald was captured so quickly. Witnesses were able to tell police they were looking for a thinly built, young Caucasian man with short light brown hair. Oswald was the closest match to this description of any of the workers in the building and also was the only worker absent shortly after the assassination.
The best view and the more persuasive testimony comes from Howard Brennan, a steamfitter who had been watching the motorcade from just across the street from the building. He had seen Oswald at the window before the motorcade passed and upon hearing the first shot, glanced up to see the same man he had seen earlier holding a rifle and fire the second and third shots. He was even able to identify Oswald in a subsequent police lineup, although he could not make a positive identification, which is understandable given the distance to the shooter.
Photographer Bob Jackson was riding a few cars behind John F. Kennedy when the shots were fired he looked up to the book depository and clearly saw the rifle protruding from the window. As he looked, the rifle was withdrawn. Jackson was never able to get a good view at the shooter. He describes the events of that day on this video interview.
Three other key witnesses were employees of the School Book Depository, Harold Norman and James Jarman, Jr and Bonnie Ray Williams. Williams and Norman are the two black men who are mentioned by Robert Jackson in the above video. The two had been watching the motorcade from the fifth floor, directly bellow the “sniper’s nest” of the building. Jarman was also on the fifth floor at the time, although he was not at the same window.
In the photo bellow, Williams and Norman can be seen just seconds after the shots were fired.
Indeed, all three men agreed that the shots came from the immediate area above them. The shots were so close they could hear the sound of the rifle bolt and the shells being discharged. Bonnie Ray Williams even had some debris from the above windowsill fall onto his head.
Question 3: Is there any photographic evidence of Oswald’s guilt?
There is certainly a lot of photographic evidence that indicates that the shot came from the rear and that there was likely no shooter elsewhere. Numerous photos taken that day document the events around the time of the shooting and show that the area around the grassy knoll had many bystanders, few areas with cover and was almost immediately secured by several police officers. Films and photos document the exact order of the shots and the reaction of those around.
The photograph to the left was taken almost immediately after the first shot was fired. It is obvious that many of the spectators closest to the shots believed that they were coming from behind the motorcade, as is apparent by the secret service men and spectators looking behind and to the right of the vehicles for the source of the sound.
However, if the question is whether there is any photographic evidence that might indicate that Oswald had taken the shots or fled the scene, the answer is that there is some, but it’s rather limited.
Just prior to the shooting, a spectator by the name of Robert Hughes began filming the motorcade. A few frames from his home movie actually show the school book depository just moments before the shots were fired. The images were taken by an 8mm camera using consumer grade film and thus do not have anywhere near the resolution necessary to make out who might be in the window. Still, they do clearly show a few key details: the window is clearly open and there appears to be a figure in the window, although it could be that this is simply boxes stacked in the area.
The film has been analyzed many times over the years by experts from the FBI and elsewhere. Some interesting conclusions have been reached by those who have analyzed the frames. First, the size of the figure is correct for a man looking out the window. There does appear to be some motion in the area, although this is obscured by the movement of the camera during filming. Perhaps most interestingly, in a couple of the frames, there appears to be a shape protruding or extending beyond the window sill, possibly casting a shadow. This is consistent with a person placing their arm on the sill to lean out slightly and look around. Unfortunately, this is all that can be said, that it is consistent, not that it is conclusively a person or that it is Oswald. The absence of an open window and a figure would have been significant, but its presence is not, since it could be something else, such as boxes and film defects.
Another image of interest was taken by spectator Mark Weaver. The photograph gives a clear and direct view of the book depository building and had it been taken with a conventional film camera, it might have captured enough detail to definitively tell whether or not there is a person in the sixth floor window. Unfortunately, it was taken with a Polaroid camera and thus has significantly less detail and range than a 35mm camera would.
Yet despite the limits of Mark Weaver’s film and camera, what it did capture is quite remarkable. This image is a blowup of one of the best copies made of the photograph shortly after it was taken. It also appears to show a figure, perhaps a person at the window. It would seem to confirm that that the Hughes film shows some kind of protrusion from the sill.
The shape of the light and dark areas in the sixth floor window is significantly different between the Weaver Polaroid and the Hughes frames. The two were taken several seconds apart and from slightly different angles. The difference in perspective alone cannot entirely explain why the layout appears different in the images. Thus, taken together, the two sources of images provide compelling evidence that there was movement in the window.
Despite these interesting features, the Warren commission did not cite these images as evidence. They are simply too poor quality to be absolutely definitive and even if they do show a figure, it does not help identify the person who may have been in the window.
It should also be noted that there are numerous photographs and films taken immediately after the assassination which document the police investigation as well as the location of all the objects discovered and of witnesses at the time. This helps insure that the evidence is valid and confirms witness testimony about their locations and the events they saw.