The Rifle in the Building
The Mannlicher-Carcano C2766 rifle was brought into the Book Depository and taken to the sixth floor in some way at some time prior to 1:30 P.M., November 22, when it was found hidden in a stack of boxes near the sixth-floor stair landing. For the "lone assassin-no conspiracy" theory to be valid, the only man who could have brought the rifle into the building is Lee Harvey Oswald.
The Commission's conclusion that Oswald brought the rifle into the Depository demands premeditation of the murder. According to the Report, Oswald deliberately lied to co-worker Frazier about his reason for returning to Irving the day before the assassination and constructed a paper sack on or before Thursday, November 21, for the purpose of carrying his rifle into the building (R137).
The prerequisite of premeditation in this case is prior knowledge of the motorcade route. If Oswald did not know by Thursday morning that President Kennedy would pass his building, he obviously could not have planned to shoot the President. The closest the Commission came to considering the question of prior knowledge was to assert that Oswald could have known the motorcade route as early as November 19, when it appeared in the Dallas papers (R40, 642). It never established whether Oswald did know the route.
Despite the Commission's assurances, on the basis of newspaper accounts neither Oswald nor any Dallas resident could have known the exact motorcade route, for conflicting accounts were published. The problem, as stated by the Report in its "Speculations and Rumors" appendix, is this:Speculation. -- The route shown in the newspaper took the motorcade through the Triple Underpass via Main Street, a block away from the Depository. Therefore, Oswald could not have known that the motorcade would pass directly by the . . . Depository Building. (R643).The Report appears to dispel this speculation by asserting that the published route clearly indicated a turn-off from Main onto Houston, and Houston onto Elm, taking the President directly in front of the Depository as the procession approached the underpass. In dispelling this rumor, the Report quotes incompletely and dishonestly from the relevant Dallas papers.
On November 16, the Dallas Times Herald reported that while the route had not yet been determined, "the presidential party apparently will loop through the downtown area, probably on Main Street" (22H613). Both the Dallas Morning News and the Times Herald carried the release of the motorcade route on November 19, including the information about the turn onto Elm (22H614-15). The next day, the Morning News carried another description of the route, saying the motorcade "will travel on Mockingbird Lane, Lemmon Avenue, Turtle Creek Boulevard, Cedar Springs, Harwood, Main and Stemmons Freeway," with mention of the Houston-to-Elm stretch omitted (22H616). Not included in the Commission's evidence but discovered and printed by Harold Weisberg, is a map of the motorcade route that appeared on the front page of the Morning News of November 22, the day of the President's visit. The map shows the route as taking Main down to Stemmons Freeway again, avoiding the cut-over to Elm.
The Report never quotes those press accounts which did not include the Elm Street stretch, leaving the impression that Oswald, in his premeditation, knew previously that the President would pass directly before him, and therefore present an easy target (R40). The distinction is not major, because either published route would have put the President within shooting range of the Depository. It should be noted, however, that the Commission, in making its case, quoted selectively from the record.
Before it can be stated that Oswald knew of any motorcade route, it must first be established that he had access to a medium by which he could have been so informed. Roy Truly and Bonnie Ray Williams thought that Oswald occasionally read newspapers in the Depository (3H218, 164). Mrs. Robert Reid saw Oswald in the building some five to ten times and recalled that "he was usually reading," although she did not specify what he read (3H279). Charles Givens provided the best detail on Oswald's reading habits during work. He testified that Oswald would generally read the previous day's paper: "Like if the day was Tuesday, he would read Monday's paper in the morning." Givens was certain that the editions of the paper Oswald read, the Dallas Morning News, were dated, for he usually looked at them after Oswald finished (6H352).
Oswald's sufficient access to the electronic media is not definitely established. Mrs. Earlene Roberts, the woman who rented Oswald his small room on North Beckley, testified that he rarely watched television: "If someone in the other rooms had it on, maybe he would come and stand at the back of the couch -- not over 5 minutes and go to his room and shut the door" (6H437). The police inventory of materials confiscated from Oswald's room reveals he had a "brown and yellow gold Russian make portable radio" (24H343), although there is no information as to whether the radio was usable, or used.
Although the evidence of Oswald's accessibility to information relating to the motorcade route does not establish whether he could have known anything about the exact route, there are indications that he was, in fact, totally uninformed about and uninterested in the procession. The narrative written by Marina Oswald when she was first put under protective custody leads one to believe that Oswald knew nothing of the President's trip. "Only when I told him that Kennedy was coming the next day to Dallas and asked how I could see him -- on television, of course -- he answered that he did now know," Marina wrote of the night before the assassination (18H638).
More important information was provided by co-worker James Jarman, who met Oswald on the first floor of the Depository between 9:30 and 10:00 on the morning of November 22. According to Jarman, Oswaldwas standing up in the window and I went to the window also, and he asked me what were the people gathering around the corner for, and I told him that the President was supposed to pass that morning, and he asked me did I know which way he was coming, and I told him, yes; he probably come down Main and turn on Houston and then back again on Elm.Jarman first reported this incident on November 23, 1963, in his affidavit for the Dallas Police (24H213).
Then he said, "Oh, I see," and that was all. (3H201)
Jarman's story is subject to two interpretations. If Oswald spoke honestly, then he clearly revealed his ignorance of the day's events, knowing neither the reason for the crowds gathering around the building nor the route of the motorcade. If Oswald knew the answers to the questions he posed to Jarman, it would seem that he was deliberately trying to "plant" false information to indicate his lack of interest in the motorcade, a good defense in case he was later apprehended in connection with the assassination. However, as Sylvia Meagher has pointed out, if Oswald deliberately dropped exculpatory hints to Jarman, why did he not later offer this to the police as part of the evidence in his favor? In all the pages of reports and testimony relating to Oswald's interrogation sessions, there is no indication that Oswald ever mentioned the early morning meeting with Jarman.
Thus there is no basis for asserting that Oswald knew the exact motorcade route as of Thursday morning, November 21. The newspapers, including the one Oswald normally saw a day late, carried conflicting versions of the route, varying at the crucial juncture -- the turn-off on Houston Street. While there is no way of knowing whether Oswald had seen any of the published information relevant to the motorcade, his actions indicate a total unawareness of the events surrounding the procession through Dallas.
During October and November of 1963, Oswald lived in a Dallas rooming house while his wife, Marina, and two children lived in Irving at the home of Ruth Paine, some 15 miles from the Depository. In the words of the Report, "Oswald traveled between Dallas and Irving on weekends in a car driven by a neighbor of the Paines, Buell Wesley Frazier, who also worked at the Depository. Oswald generally would go to Irving on Friday afternoon and return to Dallas Monday morning" (R129). On November 21, the day before the assassination, Oswald asked Frazier whether he could ride home with him that afternoon to obtain "some curtain rods" for "an apartment." Sinister implications are attached to this visit to Irving, which the Report would have us believe was unprecedented. Assuring us that the curtain-rod story was a fabrication, and asserting that "Oswald's" rifle was stored in the Paine garage, the Report lays ground for the ultimate assertion that Oswald returned to Irving to pick up his rifle and bring it to work the next day.
The Report's explanation of Oswald's return to Irving hinges on the assumption that the C2766 rifle was stored in the Paine garage. Of this there is not a single shred of evidence. The Commission had one tenuous item that could indicate the presence of a rifle wrapped in a blanket in the Paine garage; Marina testified she once peeked into this blanket and saw the stock of a rifle (R128). The other evidence indicates only that a bulky object was stored in the blanket. Certainly no one saw the specific C2766 rifle in the garage. As Liebeler has pointed out, "that fact is that not one person alive today ever saw that rifle in the Paine garage in such a way that it could be identified as that rifle."
The Report recounts in dramatic detail the police search of the Paine garage on the afternoon of the assassination. When asked that day if her husband owned a rifle, Marina pointed to the rolled-up blanket, which the officers proceeded to lift. The blanket hung limp in an officer's hand; it was empty (R131). Although there was no evidence that the rifle had ever been stored there, the Commission found the presence of the empty blanket on November 22 evidence that Oswald "removed the rifle from the blanket in the Paines' garage on Thursday evening" (R137). Had the rifle been stored where the Commission assumed, anyone could have removed it at almost any time prior to the afternoon of the shooting. The Paines apparently were not preoccupied with the security of their home, as indicated on Saturday, November 23. While the police were searching the Paine house that day, Mr. and Mrs. Paine drove off, leaving the officers completely alone (7H193).
With no evidence that Oswald ever removed the rifle from the Paine garage or that the rifle was even stored there, the Commission's case loses much of its substance, however circumstantial. Further reducing the suspicion evoked by Oswald's return to Irving is the fact that this trip was not particularly unusual. Despite the Commission's statement that he generally went home only on weekends, Oswald kept to no exact pattern for visiting his wife during the short time he was estranged from her. On the contrary, Oswald frequently violated the assumed "pattern" of weekend visits. He began his employment at the Depository on October 16. That Friday, the 18th, he came to Irving but did not return to Dallas the following Monday because his wife had given birth to a second daughter that Sunday; he visited Marina on Monday and spent the night at the Paines's. The next weekend was "normal." However, there are strong indications that Oswald returned to Irving the next Thursday, October 31. During the weekend of November 8, Oswald again spent Monday with his wife in Irving, this time because it was Veteran's Day. Furthermore, Oswald did not return at all the following weekend, and he fought over the telephone with his wife that Sunday about his use of an assumed name in registering at the roominghouse. The following Thursday, the 21st, he returned to Irving (see R737-40).
The Report does not include mention of a visit by Oswald to Irving on any Thursday other than November 21. But there is strong evidence of another such return, as was brought out by Sylvia Meagher:It does not appear that Oswald's visit on Thursday evening without notice or invitation was unusual. But it is not clear that it was unprecedented. An FBI report dealing with quite another matter -- Oswald's income and expenditures -- strongly suggests that Oswald had cashed a check in a grocery store in Irving on Thursday evening, October 31, 1963 [CE 1165, p. 6]; the Warren Commission decided arbitrarily that the transaction took place on Friday, November 1 [R331]. Neither Oswald's wife nor Mrs. Ruth Paine, both of whom were questioned closely about the dates and times of Oswald's visits to Irving during October and November, suggested that he had ever come there -- with or without prior notice -- on a Thursday. It is possible, though implausible, that Oswald came to Irving on Thursday, October 31, 1963 solely to cash a check and then returned to Dallas without contacting his wife or visiting the Paine residence. More likely, Marina and Mrs. Paine forgot that visit or, for reasons of their own, preferred not to mention it. Either way, it is clear that Oswald's visit to Irving on Thursday night, November 21, may not have been unprecedented.Oswald's excuse for his return to Irving Thursday was that he intended to pick up curtain rods for "an apartment." The Report attempts to vitiate this excuse by noting that (a) Oswald spoke with neither his wife, nor his landlady, nor Mrs. Paine about curtain rods, (b) Oswald's landlady testified that his room on North Beckley Avenue had curtains and rods, and (c) "No curtain rods were known to have been discovered in the Depository Building after the assassination" (R130).
The source cited for the assertion that no curtain rods were found in the Depository after the assassination is CE 2640. The Report neglects to mention that CE 2640 details an investigation conducted on September 21, 1964, ten months after the assassination, when only one person, Roy Truly, was questioned about curtain rods (25H899). Truly was "certain" that no curtain rods had been found because "it would be customary for any discovery of curtain rods to immediately be called to his attention." Aside from the ludicrous implication that the Depository had rules governing the discovery of curtain rods, this "inquiry" was too limited and too late to be of any significance.
Apparently, the Commission's request for this inquiry calculated its worthlessness. Rankin made this request of Hoover in a letter dated August 31, 1964. The letter, which I obtained from the National Archives, leaves little doubt that the result of the inquiry was preconceived to be against Oswald. Rankin ordered that Truly be interviewed "in order to establish that no curtain rods were found in the [Depository] following the assassination." This phraseology seems to instruct Hoover not to conduct an objective investigation; otherwise, the letter would have read "in order to establish whether any curtain rods were found."
The Commission accepted without question the landlady's assurance that Oswald's room had curtain rods. Had it conducted the least investigation, it could easily have determined that the room did need rods. Black Star photographer Gene Daniels followed many of the events in Dallas on the weekend of the assassination. On Saturday morning, November 23, he went to Oswald's rooming house and obtained a fascinating set of pictures. Daniels explained the circumstances to me:I went to the rooming house the following morning and requested permission to make the photograph from the landlady. I'm not sure of her name but I don't think she was the owner. We went into the room and she told me she preferred not to have me take any pictures until she put "the curtains back up." She said that newsmen the evening before had disturbed the room and she didn't want anyone to see it messed up. I agreed and stood in the room as she and her husband stood on the bed and hammered the curtain rods back into position. While she did this, I photographed them or possibly just her I forget right now, up on the bed with the curtain rods etc.It seems doubtful in the extreme that the activity of newsmen the night before could physically have removed curtain rods from the wall in Oswald's room. A more reasonable possibility is that the rods had not been up at all until November 23, when Daniels witnessed and photographed the landlady and her husband hammering the rods into the wall.
This renovating of Oswald's cubicle could not have come at a better time in the development of the Dallas police case against Oswald. On the day of the assassination, Wesley Frazier filed an affadavit for the police that included information about the curtain-rod story (24H209). At 10:30 on the morning of November 23, police Captain Will Fritz asked Oswald if he had carried curtain rods to work the previous day. According to Fritz, Oswald denied having told the curtain-rod story to Frazier (R604). (This denial, in light of opposing testimony from Frazier and his sister, was apparently a falsehood.)
Thus, the Commission is on shaky ground when it assumes Oswald's excuse for returning to Irving to have been false. The inferences drawn from the premise of a spurious excuse are likewise weakened or disproved. This Commission, which seems to have become a panel of amateur psychiatrists in conjuring up "motives" for Oswald, showed an appalling lack of sympathy and understanding in "evaluating" the "false excuse."In deciding whether Oswald carried a rifle to work in a long paper bag on November 22, the Commission gave weight to the fact that Oswald gave a false reason for returning home on November 21, and one which provided an excuse for the carrying of a bulky package the following morning. (R130)The curtain-rod story may not have been false. However, there are several possible explanations for Oswald's Irving visit other than the one that had such appeal to the Commission -- that Oswald came to pick up his rifle. As Leo Sauvage has pointed out, Ruth Paine and Marina had their own theory about Oswald's return. In the words of the Report:
The preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald . . . told the curtain rod story to Frazier to explain both the return to Irving on a Thursday and the obvious bulk of the package which he intended to bring to work the next day. (R137)The women thought he had come to Irving because he felt badly about arguing with his wife about the use of the fictitious name. He said that he was lonely, because he had not come the previous weekend, and told Marina that he "wanted to make his peace" with her. (R740)Sylvia Meagher, more understanding than the Commission, finds nothing suspicious in a man's trying to "make his peace" with his wife or visiting his two young daughters after not having seen them for two weeks. She points out that if this were the reason for Oswald's visit, it is unlikely that he would have admitted it to Frazier, with whom he was not close. Oswald could very innocently have lied about the curtain rods to Frazier to cover up a personal excuse, bringing a package the next morning to substantiate his story and avoid embarrassing questions. (The Paine garage, stuffed almost beyond capacity with the paraphernalia of two families, contained many packages that Oswald could have taken on the spur of the moment.)
As the record now stands, Oswald's actions on November 21 could well have been perfectly innocent. The fact is that we do not know why Lee Oswald returned to Irving that Thursday, but the trip is no more an indictment of Oswald than it is an element of his defense. However, official misrepresentations allowed unnecessary and unfair implications to become associated with the return. There is no reason to believe that Oswald knew anything about the November 22 motorcade. His visit to Irving on a Thursday probably was not unprecedented. Since there is no proof that the C2766 rifle was ever stored in the Paine garage, there is no basis for the theory that Oswald's return was for the purpose of obtaining that rifle. A number of innocent explanations for the visit present themselves as far more plausible than the incriminating and unsubstantiated notion of the Commission.
The Long and Bulky Package
At about 7:15 on the morning of the assassination, Oswald left the Paine home to walk to the residence of Mrs. Linnie Mae Randle, Buell Wesley Frazier's sister. Mrs. Randle and Frazier were the only two people to see Oswald that morning before he arrived at the Depository; they were likewise the only two people who saw the long package that Oswald had brought with him to work. Their accounts are critical in the whole case and deserve close scrutiny.
Standing at the kitchen window of her house, Mrs. Randle saw Oswald approaching. In his right hand he carried "a package in a sort of heavy brown bag," the top of which was folded down. Mrs. Randle specified that Oswald gripped the package at the very top and that the bottom almost touched the ground (2H248). When Commission Counsel Joseph Ball had Mrs. Randle demonstrate how Oswald held the package, he apparently tried to lead her into providing a false description for the record; she corrected him:Mr. Ball: And where was his hand gripping the middle of the package?
Mrs. Randle: No, sir; the top with just a little bit sticking up. You know just like you grab something like that.
Mr. Ball: And he was grabbing it with his right hand at the top of the package and the package almost touched the ground?
Mrs. Randle: Yes, sir. (2H248; emphasis added)
Mrs. Randle estimated the length of this package as "a little more" than two feet. When shown the 38-inch paper sack found near the alleged "assassin's" window, she was sure this was too long to have been the one carried by Oswald unless it had been folded down. In fact, she volunteered to fold the bag to its proper length; the result was a 28 1/2-inch sack (2H249-50). Furthermore, the FBI, in one of its interviews with Mrs. Randle, staged a "reconstruction" of Oswald's movements in which a replica sack was used and folded according to Mrs. Randle's memory. "When the proper length of the sack was reached according to Mrs. Randle's estimate," states the FBI report of this interview, "it was measured and found to be 27 inches long" (24H408) .
We must admire Mrs. Randle's consistency in estimating the length of Oswald's package despite severe questioning before the Commission. Her recollection of the sack's length varied by only one and half inches in at least two reconstructions and one verbal estimate. If we recall her specific description of the manner in which Oswald carried the sack (gripped at the top with the bottom almost touching the ground), it is obvious that the package could not have exceeded 29 inches in maximum length. (Oswald was 5 feet, 9 inches [24H7].)
Frazier first noticed the package on the back seat of his car as he was about to leave for the Depository. He estimated its length as "roughly about two feet long" (2H226). From the parking lot at work, Oswald walked some 50 feet ahead of Frazier. He held the package parallel to his body, one end under his right armpit, the other cupped in his right hand (2H228). During his testimony before the Commission, Frazier, slightly over 6 feet tall compared to Oswald's 5 feet, 9 inches, held a package that contained the disassembled Carcano. He cupped one end in his right hand; the other end protruded over his shoulder to the level of his ear. Had this been the case with Oswald's package, Frazier is sure he would have noticed the extra length (2H243). Frazier's Commission testimony is buttressed by the original sworn affidavit he filed on November 22, 1963. Here he estimated the length of the sack as "about two feet long," adding "I noticed that Lee had the package in his right hand under his arm . . . straight up and down" (24H209). Furthermore, during another "reconstruction," Frazier indicated for FBI agents the length occupied by the package on the back seat of his car; that distance was measured to be 27 inches (24H409). Again, if we take Frazier's description of how Oswald held the package in walking toward the Depository, the maximum length is fixed at 27 to 28 inches.
Frazier and Mrs. Randle proved to be consistent, reliable witnesses. Under rigorous questioning, through many reconstructions, their stories emerged unaltered and reinforced: the package carried by Oswald was 27 to 28 inches long. Both witnesses provided ample means for verifying their estimates of length; on each occasion their recollections proved accurate. Frazier and Mrs. Randle both independently described the package as slightly more than two feet long; they both physically estimated the length of the package at what turned out to be from 27 to 28 1/2 inches; they both recalled Oswald's having carried his sack in a manner that would set the maximum length at about 28 inches. One could hardly expect more credible testimony. Perhaps it is true that the combined stories of Frazier and Mrs. Randle, persuasive as they are, do not prove that Oswald's package was 27 to 28 inches long. However, no evidence has been put forth challenging their stories, and until such evidence can be produced, establishing a valid basis for doubt, we are forced to accept the 28-inch estimate as accurate.
Not even the Commission could produce a single piece of evidence disputing Frazier and Mrs. Randle. It merely believed what it wanted to believe and quoted what it wanted to quote, even to the point of self-contradiction. Without comment as to the remarkably accurate aspects of Mrs. Randle's testimony, the Report dismisses her story entirely by asserting with no substantiation that she "saw the bag fleetingly." It then quotes Frazier as saying he did not pay much attention to Oswald's package (R134). This, however, was not the full extent of what Frazier had said, as the self-contradictory Report had previously quoted. "Like I said, I remember I didn't look at the package very much," warned Frazier, " . . . but when I did look at it he did have his hands on the package like that" (R133-34).
Accepting Frazier's and Mrs. Randle's stories would have aborted in its early stages the theory that Oswald killed the President unassisted. The longest component of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle when disassembled is 34.8-inches long (3H395). The Commission's best and, in fact, only evidence on this point said the package carried to work by Oswald was too short to have contained the rifle in its shortest possible form, disassembled. Obviously, a 35-inch package strains the limits imposed by the recollections of Frazier and Mrs. Randle. Such a sack would have dragged on the ground when grasped at the top, protruded over Oswald's shoulder when cupped in his hand (as Frazier himself demonstrated), occupied more space on the back seat of Frazier's car, and been perceptibly longer than was consistently described by the two people who saw it. There is just no reason to believe that the package was over 28 inches long, and every reason to believe that 28 inches was very close to its proper length. The Commission could give no valid reason for rejecting that estimate; it merely chose to disregard the stories of its only two witnesses. Any alternative would have entailed admitting that Oswald did not carry the "assassination weapon" to work with him that morning.
The Report plays up its rejection of the Frazier-Randle testimony as if, virtually torn between witness accounts and cold, hard, scientific fact, it gave in to the latter. In the words of the Report:The Commission has weighed the visual recollection of Frazier and Mrs. Randle against the evidence here presented that the bag Oswald carried contained the assassination weapon and has concluded that Frazier and Randle are mistaken as to the length of the bag. (R134)What evidence was "presented that the bag . . . contained the assassination weapon"?
"A [38-inch long] handmade bag of paper and tape was found in the southeast corner of the sixth floor alongside the window from which the shots were fired. It was not a standard type bag which could be obtained in a store and it was presumably made for a particular purpose," says the Report (R134). Before any evidence relevant to this bag is presented, the Report draws an important inference from its location; "The presence of the bag in this corner is cogent evidence that it was used as the container for the rifle" (R135). The Commission was unequivocal; the evidence meant only what the Commission wanted it to mean -- nothing more, nothing less. To take issue with the inference read into the evidence: the presence of that bag in that corner is "cogent evidence" only that someone placed the bag in the corner. Its location of discovery can not tell who made the bag, when it was made, or what it contained. The Commission wanted it to have contained the rifle; therefore, it must have.
Having attached a significance to this bag (CE 142) "cogent" only for the Commission's predisposition toward Oswald's sole guilt, the Report presents what it labels "Scientific Evidence Linking Rifle and Oswald to Paper Bag." There was no difficulty in linking Oswald to the bag; his right palmprint and left index fingerprint were on it, proving that at some time, in some way, he had handled it. Again, the Commission reads an improper inference into this evidence. Because the palmprint was found at the bottom of the paper bag, says the Report, "it was consistent with the bag having contained a heavy or bulky object when [Oswald] handled it since a light object is usually held by the fingers" (R135). Not mentioned is the fact that, as Oswald walked to Frazier's home, he grasped his package at the top, allowing it to hang freely, almost touching the ground. According to the Commission's analysis of how people hold packages, it would seem unlikely that Oswald's bag contained anything "heavy or bulky." Nor is there any proof that Oswald was holding CE 142 when he left prints on it. Had it been lying on a hard, flat surface, Oswald could have leaned against or on it and left prints.
The Report quotes questioned-documents experts to show that CE 142 had been constructed from paper and tape taken from the Depository's shipping room, probably within three days of November 22 (R135-36). Here the Report explicitly states what it had been implying all along: "One cannot estimate when, prior to November 22, Oswald made the paper bag." The bag was made from Depository materials; at some time it was touched by Oswald. This does not prove or so much as indicate that Oswald constructed the bag. The Commission assumed Oswald made it, offering no evidence in support of its notion. It could not provide substantiation, for the evidence proves Oswald did not make CE 142.
Troy Eugene West, a full-time mail wrapper at the Depository, worked at the same bench from which the materials for the paper sack were taken. As Harold Weisberg points out in Whitewash, "West had been employed by the Book Depository for 16 years and was so attached to his place of work that he never left his bench, even to eat lunch. His only separation from it, aside from the necessary functions of life [and this is presumed; it is not in his testimony], was on arrival before work, to get water for coffee."
Although West was the one man who could know if Oswald had taken the materials used in constructing CE 142, he was never mentioned in the Report. In his deposition, he virtually obviated the possibility that Oswald made the bag:Mr. Belin: Did Lee Harvey Oswald ever help you wrap mail?West brought out another important piece of information. Expert examination showed that one long strip of tape had been drawn from the Depository's dispenser and then torn into smaller pieces to assemble the bag (R579-80). West told Counsel Belin that the dispensing machine was constructed so that the dried mucilage on the tape would be automatically moistened as tape was pulled out for use. The only way one could obtain dry tape, he added, was if he removed the roll of tape from the machine and tore off the desired length (6H361). However, the tape on CE 142 possessed marks that conclusively showed that it had been pulled through the dispenser (R580). Thus, the tape used in making CE 142 was wet as soon as it left the dispenser; it had to be used at that moment, demanding that the entire sack be constructed at West's bench.
Mr. West: No, sir; he never did.
Mr. Belin: Do you know whether or not he ever borrowed or used any wrapping paper for himself?
Mr. West: No, sir; I don't.
Mr. Belin: You don't know?
Mr. West: No; I don't.
Mr. Belin: Did you ever see him around these wrapper rolls or wrapper roll machine, or not?
Mr. West: No, sir; I never noticed him being around. (6H360)
The fabricator of CE 142 had to remain at or near the bench long enough to assemble the entire bag. West never saw Oswald around the dispensing machines, which indicates that Oswald did not make the bag. This contention is supported by those who observed Oswald during his return to Irving on Thursday evening. Frazier never saw Oswald take anything with him from work (2H141), despite the fact that, even folded, CE 142 would have been awkward to conceal. Likewise, neither Ruth Paine nor Marina ever saw Oswald with such a sack on or before November 21 (1H120; 3H49; 22H751).
The Report thus far has done some rather fancy footwork with the paper sack, asserting without basis that Oswald was its fabricator when the evidence allows the conclusion only that Oswald once touched the bag. Next in line was the "scientific evidence" that the Commission promised would link the "rifle . . . to paper bag."
When FBI hair-and-fiber expert Paul Stombaugh examined CE 142 on November 23, he found that it contained a single, brown, delustered viscose fiber and "several" light-green cotton fibers (R136). The Report does not mention Stombaugh's qualification of the word "several" as indicating only two or three fibers (4H80). It seems that these few fibers matched some composing the blanket in which the rifle was allegedly stored, although Stombaugh could render no opinion as to whether the fibers had in fact come from that blanket (R136-37). How does this relate the rifle to the paper bag when it does not conclusively relate even the blanket to the bag? The Commission's theory is "that the rifle could have picked up fibers from the blanket and transferred them to the paper bag" (R137).
Had the Commission not been such a victim of its bias, it could have seen that this fiber evidence had no value in relating anything. The reason is simple: the evidence indicates that the Dallas Police took no precautions to prevent the various articles of evidence from contacting each other prior to laboratory examination. On Saturday morning, November 23, physical items such as the rifle, the blanket, the bag, and Oswald's shirt arrived in Washington, on loan from the police for FBI scrutiny. It was then that Stombaugh found fibers in the bag (4H75). Prior to Oswald's death, this evidence was returned to the police. However, on November 26, the items remaining in police custody were again turned over to the FBI. Before the second return, some of the items were photographed together on a table (4H273-74). This photograph, CE 738, shows the open end of the paper bag to be in contact with the blanket. Such overt carelessness by the police ruined the bag for any subsequent fiber examinations. If this was any indication of how the evidence was handled by the police when first turned over to the FBI, all the fiber evidence becomes meaningless because the various specimens could have come in contact with each other after they were confiscated.
There is ample evidence that CE 142 never contained the Mannlicher-Carcano. James Cadigan, FBI questioned-documents expert, disclosed an important piece of information in his testimony concerning his examination of the paper sack:I was also requested . . . to examine the bag to determine if there were any significant markings or scratches or abrasions or anything by which it could be associated with the rifle, Commission Exhibit 139, that is, could I find any markings that I could tie to that rifle....And I couldn't find any such markings. (4H97; emphasis added)Cadigan added that he could not know the significance of the absence of marks (4H97-98).
There is, however, great significance, due to circumstances unknown to Cadigan. If Oswald placed the rifle into CE 142, he could have done so only between 8 and 9 P.M. on November 21; he simply did not have time to do it the following morning before going to work. Had he removed the rifle immediately upon arriving at the Depository at 8 A.M., it would still have remained in the bag for at least 12 hours. The bag likewise would have been handled by Oswald during a half-block walk to Frazier's house and a two-block walk from the parking lot to the Depository. It is stretching the limits of credibility to assume that a rifle in two bulky parts (the 40-inch Carcano could have fit into the 38-inch bag only if disassembled) in a single layer of paper would fail to produce obvious marks after over 12 hours of storage and handling through two-and-a-half blocks of walking. More significantly, Cadigan made no mention of oil stains having been found on the bag, but the rifle was described by FBI Director Hoover as "well-oiled" (26H455). It is reasonable to conclude from the condition of CE 142 that this sack, even if Oswald had made it, never held "Oswald's" rifle.
CE 142 may be significant in two ways. Judging from the immediate impression received that this sack had been used to transport the rifle (despite the lack of evidence that it did), it is not impossible that it was made and left by the window with exactly that effect in mind, even for the purpose of incriminating Oswald.
photograph of flat paper bag on top
and disassembled rifle lying at bottom
(at least 9 discernable pieces)
Fig. 6. The Commission says that all these pieces of the disassembled Carcano were carried in this bag without leaving any identifiable marks or oil stains. There is no crease in the bag where it would have been folded over had it contained the disassembled rifle. Oswald's careless handling of his package is not consistent with its having contained so many loose parts.
However, with all the trash scattered about the storage spaces in the building, it is conceivable that CE 142 had been made for some unknown purpose entirely unrelated to the shooting and merely discarded on the sixth floor. The evidence that Oswald neither made 142 nor carried it home the evening of November 21 leads to the inference that the bag he did carry on the 22nd has never come to light subsequent to the assassination. Likewise, it follows that the contents of Oswald's package may never have been found. (There is evidence suggesting that Oswald, before entering the Depository, may actually have discarded his package in rubbish bins located in an enclosed loading dock at the rear of the building. Employee Jack Dougherty saw Oswald arrive for work, entering through a back door. At that time, Dougherty saw nothing in Oswald's hands [6H377].)
There is not the slightest suggestion in any of the evidence that Oswald carried his rifle to work the morning of November 22. The indications are persuasive and consistent that Oswald carried almost anything but his rifle. Oswald took little care with his package, hardly treating it as if it contained the apparatus with which he later intended efficiently to commit murder. As he approached Frazier's house, he held the package at the top, "much like a right handed batter would pick up a baseball bat when approaching the plate" (24H408), certainly a peculiar and dangerous way for one to transport a package containing a rifle in two bulky parts. Every indication of the length of Oswald's sack consistently precludes its having contained the disassembled rifle. Interestingly enough, Frazier had once worked in a department store uncrating packaged curtain rods. Having seen the appearance of these, Frazier found nothing suspicious about Oswald's package which, he was informed, contained curtain rods (2H229).
It is no longer sufficient to say, as I did in the first chapter, that there is no evidence that Oswald carried his rifle to work on the morning of the assassination. There is, as the evidence indicates, no reason even to suspect that he did (based on the descriptions of the package he carried), that he would have (based on the indications that he knew nothing of the motorcade route), or that he could have (based on the total lack of proof that the C2766 rifle had been stored in the Paine garage). The most reasonable conclusion -- if any is to be drawn -- is that Oswald did not carry his rifle to work that morning.
Weisberg, Whitewash, p. 23.
Ibid., pp. 13-14.
Meagher, pp. 37-38.
Liebeler 9/6/64 Memorandum, p. 4.
Meagher, p. 37.
Letter from J. Lee Rankin to J. Edgar Hoover, dated August 31, 1964, found in the Truly "K.P." (Key Persons) file.
Letter to the author from Gene Daniels, received March 19, 1970. Quoted by permission.
Leo Sauvage, The Oswald Affair (Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1965), pp. 363-67.
Meagher, p. 38.
The first critical analysis of the questioning of witnesses Frazier and Randle appeared in Weisberg's Whitewash, pp. 17-19.
West's testimony was first noted by Harold Weisberg and published in Whitewash, p. 21.
According to Marina, Oswald overslept on the morning of the assassination and did not get up until 7:10, at which time he dressed and left (18H638-39). Oswald arrived at Frazier's home at 7:20 that morning (24H408). Thus, he had only ten minutes to get ready for work and walk to Frazier's, which would not have allowed him time to disassemble the rifle, place it in the sack, and replace the blanket.
back to JFK | ratville times | rat haus | Index | Search