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Firearms, Photographs, & Lee Harvey Oswald

by Ian Griggs
from Vol. 1, Issue 1, 1995 Kennedy Assassination Chronicles

 

Introduction

The so-called "backyard photographs" (1) give us the most celebrated pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald bearing arms. Like many other researchers, we have serious doubts about the authenticity and history of those photographs, but for the purposes of this article we intend to regard them as "Oswald" photographs. However it happened, whether by normal photographic means or as a result of something more sinister, there can be no denying that those photographs do indeed show a rifle, a revolver and the face of Lee Harvey Oswald.

What is less widely known, however, is the existence of several other photographs in which Oswald is shown with firearms of various types. Four of these are perfectly straightforward, but another, which is described at length in the Warren Commission testimony of Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, but which we have never seen, presents almost as many problems as those allegedly taken in the backyard of 214 Neely Street, Dallas, possibly on Sunday 31st March 1963 (2). It is almost certainly the fifth "backyard photograph" in the series.

 

The "Backyard Photographs"

We obviously have to deal with the "backyard photographs" in an article on this subject, but we do not intend to dwell overlong on them. That has been done by many researchers with far greater knowledge and expertise on the subject than we will ever possess. Suffice to say that there were either one (3) or two (4) negatives and two developed prints found by Detectives Rose and McCabe during their search, with other police officers, of the garage of Michael and Ruth Paine's house at 2515 West Fifth Street, Irving, on Saturday 23rd November 1963. (See Note 1.)

In the words of Detective Guy Rose: "Yes; I found two negatives first that showed Lee Oswald holding a rifle in his hand, wearing a pistol at his hip, and right with those negatives I found a developed picture - I don't know what you call it, but anyway a picture that had been developed from the negative of him holding this rifle, and Detective McCabe was standing there and he found the other picture - of Oswald holding the rifle." (5)

Unfortunately, the testimony of Detective John A. McCabe, who has been named as finding one of the most vital pieces of evidence in the investigation, was not considered of sufficient importance to be included in either the Commission Report or its Hearings. Oddly, his name does not appear on any of the property receipts for items seized during that search (6). The Paine house was in Irving, where the Dallas Police Department had no jurisdiction, so it was obligatory that somebody from either the County or Irving Police Department was present. Detective
McCabe was a member of the Irving P.D. McCabe does get a few lines in an FBI Report dated 26th March 1964, when he describes his part in that search but for some inexplicable reason, he fails to mention finding the photograph (7).

That same FBI Report also describes how, on 23rd March 1964, McCabe had provided a full account of his finding of the Imperial Reflex camera (CE 750) which was later claimed to have been used to take the "backyard photographs." However, he had neither seized nor mentioned it as he did not consider it to be of "evidentiary value." As we now know, that camera was to remain in a box in the Paine garage until 8th December 1963 when Robert Oswald took possession of the residue of his late brother's property and found it. He later realized that it could be relevant and handed it to the Dallas Office of the FBI on 24th February 1964 (8).

 

 133-a 133-b
 CE 133-A and CE 133-B were found in the Paine
garage along with their negatives.

 

Two More "backyard photographs"

Two further "backyard photographs" gained some notoriety when they were discovered separately in later years. The first came to light when Oswald's friend George de Mohrenschildt returned from Haiti in April 1967 and found the third "backyard photograph" in a piece of luggage which he had left in storage during his absence (9). On the back were two handwritten inscriptions: "To my friend George from Lee Oswald - 5/IV/63" and, in Russian Cyrillic script: "Hunter of fascists ha-ha-ha!!!"

133-A deM133-A deMohrenschildt (HSCA Exhibit)

Some researchers believe the first of these inscriptions is in Oswald's handwriting, but the style in which the date is written has long caused general concern. British researcher Anthony Summers states: "A researcher's check of the dozens of letters and documents written by Oswald has produced not one example of a date written like the one of the back of the photograph." (10).
However, in the course of researching this article, Melanie Swift has discovered a postcard written by Lee Harvey Oswald (in Minsk) to brother Robert (in Fort Worth) on which the date is written as 10/V/62 (11). In it, the message refers to Lee's daughter June as being "almost 3 months old now" and since she was born on 15th February 1962, that date (10/V/62) is obviously 10th May 1962. This provides a precedent for Lee writing a date in this "European" style with a Roman numeral indicating the month. It also tells us that the inscription on the de Mohrenschildt "backyard photograph" was written on 5th April 1963 - a date, incidentally, just five days prior to the attempt on the life of Major General Edwin A Walker (12).

 

133-A deM back of photo 133-A deMohrenschildt back of photo (HSCA Exhibit)


The identity of the author of the second (Russian) inscription remains uncertain. It has been suggested that Marina Oswald may have been the writer (13).

The photograph itself shows Oswald in a similar pose to that in CE 133A but with both arms held higher. Photographic analyst Jack White has claimed that the de Mohrenschildt photograph appears to have been taken with a far more sophisticated camera than the others. It allegedly shows far greater detail (14). We feel that further research is required in this area. (See note 3.)
133-c White Photo  133C-Dees (White)

In 1976, during the Schweiker-Hart assassination investigation, yet another "backyard photograph" emerged. This one was found in the possession of Mrs. Geneva Ruth Dees, the widow of former Dallas Police Officer #1884 Roscoe Anthony White (15). The picture was reportedly found among a collection of 40 photographs retained by White as souvenirs (16). Is there any significance to the fact that during his brief DPD career (two years to the day - 7th October 1963 to 7th October 1965) (17), White had spent some time as a photographic technician (18)? (See Note 3.)

Oswald in the United States Marine Corps (a)

Oswald in TrainingOswald in training

In his book "The Killing of a President," Robert J Groden includes what he describes as "the only known legitimate photograph of Oswald holding a rifle" (19). This photograph, taken during Marine Corps training, shows a line of men apparently firing rifles in the same direction (to the right). At first, we wondered whether these men had been deliberately posed in this position. Had each of them taken his turn to be the "front man" to give everybody the opportunity to be the cameraman's principal subject? (See Note 4.)

Supposedly, however, that it was pure chance (and yet another bizarre coincidence) that Marine 1653230 Lee Harvey Oswald was the man closest to the camera. The photograph is virtually of Oswald alone - with his colleagues extending in a straight line away from the camera into the background.

Even under his jauntily-angled forage cap, we can recognize young Oswald. He was undoubtedly only 17 years old at the time, and this photograph was taken during his boot camp training. Oswald had joined the service on 24th October 1956, just six days after his 17th birthday. From 28th October 1956 to 18th January 1957 he was with the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit depot, San Diego, California. He continued and completed his training between 20th January 1957 and 26th February 1957 as a member of QUA Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California (20).

It was normal practice for Marine Corps recruits to undergo three weeks intensive marksmanship instruction during the course of their Marine training (21). This practice usually took up the seventh, eighth and ninth weeks, with the first two days devoted entirely to dry firing. This training was to ensure that the trainee was totally familiar with his rifle before he was entrusted with any live ammunition. We have no reason to suspect that Oswald's training schedule was anything but normal, and it is thus possible to "date" this photograph as taken on either the 10th or 11th of December 1956 during dry firing training (22).

 

Oswald in the United States Marine Corps (b)
Oswald Marine Group Oswald with Marine group in 1957.

Our next photograph only just qualifies for inclusion here, but it does show Oswald with what is undoubtedly a rifle. The photograph shows a group of about ten Marines relaxing somewhere apparently in the Far East. They are on a beach with palm trees in the background. As in the preceding USMC photograph, Oswald is the central figure. He is sitting cross-legged, wearing Marines fatigues. He is facing left and, like his companions, he is wearing a forage cap. In the foreground, at Oswald's feet, are his helmet and his rifle. Edward Jay Epstein has identified Oswald's fellow Marines as Godfrey Jerome Daniels, George A. Wilkins, Jr., Zack Stout, Bobby J. Warren and James R. Parsons. He states that none of these men was ever questioned by either the Warren Commission or the FBI (23).

Several books have featured this photograph (24) and one has indicated in its caption that the group is waiting to board the USS Terrell County (25). If that is true, then the photograph was taken on 20th November 1957 in the Yokosuka area of Japan (26), the only occasion on which Oswald sailed on that ship (27). We have since learned that Edward Jay Epstein endorses this opinion (28).

Much additional attention has been this photograph by researchers interested in Roscoe Anthony White. It has been claimed by his son Ricky that Roscoe appears in the background, standing on the left hand side (29). Marine (later Corporal) #1666106 Roscoe White was once in the same unit as Oswald (30), but military records indicate that he was in Okinawa on the date we believe this photograph to have been taken (31).

On leave from the Marines

We now come to the first of two photographs appearing in Gerald Posner's book "Case Closed." It shows Oswald with a severe Marines-style haircut, dressed in casual clothes, standing alone in a field, clutching what appears to be some sort of rifle (32). He is holding the weapon by his left side in a very relaxed manner. The caption reads: A rare photo of Lee hunting while on his first leave from the Marines in February 1958, when he visited his family in Fort Worth, Texas. The photograph appears courtesy of Robert L Oswald (Lee's elder brother). During his periods of leave, Lee would hunt squirrels and other game with Robert (33), but does not appear among the Warren Commission Exhibits.We are mystified by Mr. Posner's statement that this photograph was taken during Oswald's first leave in February 1958. (34) Oswald did not have to wait 16 months for his first leave. There is nothing sinister about this photograph. It depicts what appears to be a happy individual relaxing away from the rigors of a career with the United States Marine Corps.

 

Oswald the Schoolboy

Oswald at 8 years.

The second photograph of interest to us in Mr. Posner's book is also credited to Robert L Oswald. It bears the following caption: "In this seldom-seen photo, eight-year-old Lee plays with his cap pistol while wearing his brother Robert's military academy hat. At school, he had already developed a reputation as a bully." (35). The photograph does indeed show the young Oswald wearing a military cap and pointing a cap pistol. Funnily enough, and probably to Mr. Posner's disappointment, he is not pointing the toy gun at the photographer but at some imaginary target way off to the left and completely out of view of the camera. Oswald is displaying a grin, and certainly not the smirk so frequently credited to him by Mr. Posner. Unable to mention that in his caption, Mr. Posner cannot resist the totally irrelevant remark about developing a bully's reputation at school. We question the author's motive in including this photograph in his book. "Case Closed" contains only 36 photographs, and it seems strange to us this one to the exclusion of others which would have been of far greater value. There could, for example, have been more than just two taken during the actual shooting in Dealey Plaza Altgens 1-6 and the Moorman 3 polaroid).

 

Was there a fifth "backyard photograph"?

We now return to what are loosely-termed the "backyard photographs" to examine the photograph which originally inspired this article. Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, testified before the Warren Commission at Washington D.C. on Monday 10th, Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th February 1964. On the morning of the first day, she made the following amazing statement concerning events at the Paine house on Friday 22nd November 1963 - presumably in the evening:

"Now, gentlemen, this is some important facts. My daughter-in-law spoke to Mrs. Paine in Russian. 'Mamma', she says. So she takes me into the bedroom and closes the door. She said, 'Mamma, I show you.' She opened the closet, and in the closet was a load of books and papers. And she came out with a picture - a picture of Lee, with a gun. It said, 'To my daughter June' - written in English. I said, 'Oh, Marina, police.' I didn't think anything of the picture."

After carrying on in a similar vein for a minute or so, Mrs. Oswald continued:

"But I say to my daughter[in-law], 'To my daughter, June[?]', [a]nybody can own a rifle, to go hunting. You yourself probably have a rifle. So I am not connecting this with the assassination - 'To my daughter, June.' Because I would immediately say, and I remember - I think my son is an agent all the time - no one is going to be foolish enough if they mean to assassinate the President, or even murder someone to take a picture of themselves with that rifle, and leave it there for evidence.......... I said 'No, Marina. Put it back in the book.' So she put the picture back in the book. Which book it was, I do not know."

"So the next day, when we were at the courthouse - this is on Saturday - she - we were sitting down, waiting to see Lee. She puts her shoe down, she says, 'Mamma, picture.' She had the picture folded up in her shoe. Now, I did not see that it was the picture, but I knew that it was, because she told me it was, and I could see it was folded up. It wasn't open for me to see." (36).


At this point there is nothing to indicate whether or not this is one of the series of photographs apparently taken in the Neely Street backyard. A few minutes later, however, J Lee Rankin, General Counsel to the Warren Commission, showed Mrs. Oswald an enlargement of one of the two known (at that time) "backyard photographs" found during the search of the Paine garage, together with a composite of those two photographs (37).

Mrs. Oswald said:

"No, sir, that is not the picture. He was holding the rifle up, and it said,
'To my daughter, June, with love.' He was holding the rifle up."

The question and answer sequence then continued:

MR. RANKIN: "By holding it up, you mean --"

MRS. OSWALD: "Like this."

MR. RANKIN "Crosswise, with both hands on the rifle?"

MRS. OSWALD: "With both hands on the rifle."

MR. RANKIN: "Above his head?"

MRS. OSWALD: "That is right." (38).

After further questions and answers on other matter, Mrs. Oswald described how the photograph was destroyed in a suite at the Executive Inn, on the outskirts of Dallas, during the evening of Saturday 23rd November 1963. This developed into what was virtually a monologue directed solely towards Mr. Rankin:

"And Marina comes with bits of paper, and puts them in the ashtray and strikes a match to it. And this is the picture of the gun that Marina tore up into bits of paper, and struck a match to it. Now that didn't burn completely, because it was heavy - not cardboard - what is the name for it - a photographic picture. So the match didn't take it completely. The last time I had seen the picture was in Marina's shoe when she was trying to tell me that the picture was in her shoe. I state here now that Marina meant for me to have that picture, from the very beginning, in Mrs. Paine's house. She said - I testified before - 'Mamma, you keep picture.' And then she showed it to me in the courthouse. And when I refused it, then she decided to get rid of the picture. She tore up the picture and struck a match to it. Then I took it and flushed it down the toilet." (39).


It is simple to assume automatically that this photograph was another part of the series taken in the backyard of the Oswalds' Neely Street address in early 1963. That Mr. Rankin showed the other two "backyard photographs" to Mrs. Oswald tends, by association, to re-inforce this possibility, but that was never actually said, and was not even indicated by his questions. As respected researcher, Sylvia Meagher, observed, the weapon being held over his head by Oswald could well have been the shotgun he owned in Russia and the photograph could well have been taken in that country (40).

We were unwilling to leave this matter unresolved, and in October 1994, Ian Griggs had the opportunity to put this point directly to Mrs. Marina Oswald Porter. Without hesitation, she confirmed that this photograph was indeed a 'backyard photograph.' As she stressed, had it been an innocent picture taken in Russia, why would it have been necessary to destroy it? It would not have mattered! (41). There, this matter stands.

 


HOW MANY BACKYARD PHOTOS?

133-A, found by DPD
133-B, found by DPD
133-C, Dees-White photo
133-A, de Mohrenshchildt photo
Mrs. Oswald/Marina photo, destroyed

1. Rifle in left hand, papers in right hand held infront of chest.
2. Rifle in right hand, papers in left hand, both hands at shoulder height.
3. Rifle in left hand, papers in right hand, both hands held up at shoulder height.
4. Similar to 133-A, but with more background showing. (See note 2.)
5. Rifle held over head with both hands.

 

Conclusion

There is not really a formal conclusion to an article of this type. We did not set out to prove or disprove any contentious point. However, if we have provoked the reader into prodding the surface and searching a little deeper to seek the truth, then we have gained our objective. Over 31 years have passed since the assassination and many thousands of researchers have studied the case, some of them literally devoting their lives to it. Hundreds of books, articles, videos, etc. have been produced. Despite all this attention, however, there still remains much to be learned. How did that dated postcard from Lee to his brother have lain unnoticed and unrecognized until a young, but dedicated researcher realized it's significance? What other similar gems remain to be found and deciphered?


Ian Griggs & Melanie Swift at Oswald's gravesite.

It is surely up to all of us -- from the most distinguished and widely-known professional researcher to the total beginner who has just discovered Rush to Judgment in his local library -- to continue to query and to look beyond the obvious. We must not blindly accept everything which has been written, irrespective of the standing of the author. Check it all out! If a leading researcher made an honest error in an early book, that error may well have been accepted, then perpetuated in subsequent years. Go back to primary sources and confirm everything.

 

Sources

1. "Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits," Commission Exhibits 133A and 133B. Cited hereafter in format CE 133A and 133B.
2. "Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F Kennedy" (Warren Report). Washington D.C. Government Printing Office, 1964; pages 127/128. Cited hereafter in format WCR 127/ 128.
3. WCR 127.
4. "Warren Commission Hearings and Exhibits", vol. VII, page 231. Cited hereafter in format 7H 231. Testimony of Guy F Rose, 8th April 1964.
5. 7H 231. Testimony of Guy F Rose, 8th April 1964.
6. CE 2003, pages 263-272 of exhibit.
7. CE 2557, page 2 of exhibit.
8. CE 2447, page 1 of exhibit.
9. Jim Marrs: "Crossfire, The Plot That Killed Kennedy" (Carroll & Graff, New York, 1989), pages 287/288. (on finding of de Mohrenschildt photo) Anthony Summers: Conspiracy (Victor Gollanez, London, 1980), pages 240/241.
10. Summers; 241.
11. CE 321.
12. WCR 183.
13. Written note from Walt Brown to the co-authors, November 1994.
14. Jack White in "Fake" video film (JFK Video Group, 1990).
15. Robert J Groden: "The Killing of a President" (Viking Studio Books, New York, 1993), page 170.
16. J Gary Shaw and Larry Ray Harris: "Cover-Up" (Thomas Publications, Inc., Austin, Texas, 1992). page 206.
17. Dallas Police Department Internal Intelligence Information memorandum, Corporal/Investigator Jack L. Beavers to Captain W. R., 28th January 1964 (photocopy in Ian Griggs' collection).
18. Groden; 170.
19. Groden; 165.
20. CE 1961, page 4 of exhibit.
21. 11H 302. Testimony of Major Eugene D Anderson, USMC, 24th July 1964.
22. Ian Griggs' discussion with Craig Roberts (ex-USMC), Olathe, Kansas, 19th October 1994.
23. Edward Jay Epstein: "Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald" (Arrow Books, London, 1978), page 303.
24. Epstein; first page of photographs. Matthew Smith: "JFK - The Second Plot" (Mainstream, Edinburgh, 1992), page 195. Henry Hurt: "Reasonable Doubt" (Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1986), twelfth page of photographs.
25. Epstein as above.
26. CE 1961, page 4 of exhibit.
27. CE 1961, page 4 of exhibit
28. Epstein; 73.
29. Ricky Don White press conference at the JFK Assassination Information Center, Dallas, Texas, 6th August 1990.
30. Dallas Police Department internal memo: see footnote 17 above.
31. USMC Sea and Air Travel Embarkation Slips 1957/58 in respect of Roscoe White (photocopy in Ian Griggs' collection).
32. Gerald Posner: "Case Closed" (Random House, New York, 1993), fifth illustration.
33. 1H 163. Testimony of Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, 10th February 1964.
34. Posner; 419 footnote.
35. Posner; second illustration.
36. 1H 146. Testimony of Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, 10th February 1964.
37. 1H 146/147. Testimony of Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, 10th February 1964.
38. 1H 148. Testimony of Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, 10th February 1964.
39. 1H 152. Testimony of Mrs. Marguerite Oswald, 10th February 1964.
40. Sylvia Meagher: "Accessories after the Fact" (Vintage Books, New York, 1976), page 201.
41. Ian Griggs' discussion with Mrs. Marina Oswald Porter Olathe, Kansas, 16th October 1994.


Notes:

1.The missing negative.
HSCA VI, p 139
(1) History of the Backyard Photographs

In the early afternoon of November 23, 1963, Dallas detectives obtained a warrant to search the Paine residence in Irving, Tex., where Marina Oswald had been living. (125) The search concentrated primarily on a garage in which possessions of the Oswalds were, stored. Among the belongings, Dallas Police officials found a brown cardboard box containing personal papers and photographs, including two snapshot negatives of Oswald holding a rifle. (126) (Only one negative was made available to the Warren Commission; the other has never been accounted for.) (127)


2. The Dees (White) Photo

HSCA VI, p 141
   The committee obtained an 8 X 10 print of an additional view of Oswald holding the rifle in a pose different from CE 133-A or generation print, * was given to the committee on December 30, 1976 by Mrs. Geneya Dees of Paris, Tex,    
   According to Mrs. Dees, it had been acquired by her former husband, Roscoe White, now deceased, while employed with the Dallas Police at the time of the assassination. The panel designated this recently discovered photograph as 133-C.


3. The deMohrenshchildt Photo

HSCA VI, p141
   The committee obtained another first generation print 133-A on April l, 1977 from the window of George de Mohrenschildt. In the manuscript of his book, which he was writing at the time of his death in 1977, he stated that he and his wife had found the photograph in February 1967 among personal belongings they had stored in Dallas before departing for Haiti in May 1963.

p147
   (381) On review of 133A-deMohrenschildt (see figs. IV-2O and IV-21, JFK exhibits F-382 (front) and F-383 (reverse), the panel noted that it had been probably made in a high quality enlarged with a high quality lens.  
 Nevertheless the print has become yellowed with the passage of time indicating that it was not adequately fixed or washed during the development process.
   (382) The uncropped black border around the edge of this print indicates that it was projected in an enlarger with it negative carrier that was larger than the actual full size negative of CE 133-A. This type of equipment might be found in a graphic arts shop or photo printing shop that uses many sizes of negatives. It is also possible that the paper easel might not have had the capability of masking a print this size.    
As a result, the entire negative area is printed and the unexposed border area outside the full camera aperture has been recorded as black on the print. Because people normally like to have white borders on their pictures, this is an unusual way of presenting a photograph.    
The sharpness of the markings (from the film scratches) within this black border, as well as the presence of fine scratches and emulsion tears. indicates that this is a first generation print.


Another Marine photo of Oswald?

4. After this article was published, Robert Groden published his book, "The Search For Lee Harvey Oswald," where he shows a photo captioned "Lee in Japan on guard duty with a rifle sometime in 1958." According to the sources listed in this book the picture is from the National Archives.

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