Oswald's Rifle Capability
The lunchroom encounter was Oswald's alibi; it proved that he could not have been at the sixth-floor window during the shots. The Warren Commission falsely pronounced Oswald the assassin. In so doing, it alleged that Oswald had the proficiency with his rifle to have fired the assassination shots. Obviously, in light of the evidence that proves Oswald innocent, his rifle capability has no legitimate bearing on the question of his involvement in the shooting. In this chapter I will examine the Commission's handling of the evidence related to Oswald's rifle capability. It will be demonstrated that the Commission consistently misrepresented the record in an effort to make feasible the assertion that Oswald was the assassin.
The first consideration germane to this topic is the nature of the shots, assuming theoretically that all originated from the sixth-floor window by a gunman using the Mannlicher-Carcano. For such a rifleman, "the shots were at a slow-moving target proceeding on a downgrade in virtually a straight line with the alignment of the assassin's rifle, at a range of 177 to 266 feet" (R189). According to the Commission, three shots were fired, the first and last strikes occurring within a span of 4.8 to 5.6 seconds; one shot allegedly missed, although the Commission did not decide whether it was the first, second, or third. While the current analysis ignores evidence of more than three shots from more than one location, I can make only a limited departure from reality in working under the Commission's postulations. My analysis of the wounds proved beyond doubt that the President and the Governor were wounded nonfatally by two separate bullets. This demands, in line with the Commission's three-shot-theory, that all shots hit in the car. The Zapruder film reveals that the first two hits occurred within a very brief time, probably shorter than the very minimum time needed to fire two successive shots with the Carcano, 2.3 to 3 seconds. The fatal shot came about four seconds after the one that wounded Connally.
The Report repeatedly characterizes the shots as "very easy" and "easy." However, the experts who made these evaluations for the Commission did not consider two essential factors that cannot be excluded from any hypothesizing: 1) the President was a living, moving target, and 2) the shots had to be fired in a very short period of time. First quoted in the Report is FBI ballistics expert Frazier:From my own experience in shooting over the years, when you shoot at 175 feet or 260 feet, which is less than 100 yards, with a telescopic sight, you should not have any difficulty hitting your target. (R190)Frazier testified at the New Orleans trial of Clay Shaw, where he modified his previous Commission testimony. How would the added consideration of a moving target affect his previous assessment?it would be a relatively easy shot, slightly complicated, however, if the target were moving at the time, it would make it a little more difficult.The next "expert" quoted is Marine Sgt. James A. Zahm, who was involved in marksmanship training in the Marine Corps:Using the scope, rapidly working the bolt and using the scope to relocate your target quickly and at the same time when you locate that target you identify and the crosshairs are in close relationship to the point you want to shoot at, it just takes a minor move in aiming to bring the crosshairs to bear, and then it is a quick squeeze. (R190)Zahm never used the C2766 Carcano; his comments related to four-power scopes in general as aids in rapid shooting with a bolt-action rifle. Another expert, Ronald Simmons, was directly involved in tests employing the Carcano. Although this is not reflected in the Report, he told the Commission that, contrary to Zahm's generalization of a "minor move" necessary to relocate the target in the scope, such a great amount of effort was needed to work the rifle bolt that the weapon was actually moved completely off target (3H449). There is yet another factor qualifying Zahm's evaluation. This was brought out during Frazier's New Orleans testimony:Mr. Oser: . . . when you shoot this rifle . . . can you tell us whether or not in rebolting the gun you had to move your eye away from the scope?At best, the Report drastically oversimplified the true nature of the shots. It is true that shots fired at ranges under 100 yards with a four-power scope are generally easy. However, the assassination shots, in accordance with the Commission's lone-assassin theory, were fired in rapid succession (indeed the first two would have occurred within the minimum time needed to operate the bolt) and at a moving target. The difficulty of such shots becomes apparent when it is considered that operation of the bolt would have thrown the weapon off target and caused the firer temporarily to move his eye from the sight.
Mr. Frazier: Yes, sir, that was necessary.
Mr. Oser: Why was that necessary?
Mr. Frazier: To prevent the bolt of the rifle from striking me in the face as it came to the rear.
One is prompted to ask what caliber of shooter would be required to commit the assassination alone as described above. Simulative tests conducted by the Commission, while deficient, are quite illuminating.
The Commission's test firers were all rated as "Master" by the National Rifle Association (NRA); they were experts whose daily routines involved working with and shooting firearms (3H445). In the tests, three targets were set up at 175, 240, and 365 feet respectively from a 30-foot-high tower. Each shooter fired two series of three shots, using the C2766 rifle. The men took 8.25, 6.75, and 4.60 seconds respectively for the first series and 7.00, 6.45, and 5.15 for the second (3H446). In the first series, each man hit his first and third targets but missed the second. Results varied on the next series, although in all cases but one, two targets were hit. Thus, in only two cases were the Commission's experts able to fire three aimed shots in under 5.6 seconds as Oswald allegedly did. None scored three hits, as was demanded of a lone assassin on November 22.
These tests would suggest that three hits within such a short time span, if not impossible, would certainly have taxed the proficiency of the most skilled marksman. In his testimony before the Commission, Ronald Simmons spoke first of the caliber of shooter necessary to have fired the assassination shots on the basis that only two hits were achieved:Mr. Eisenberg: Do you think a marksman who is less than a highly skilled marksman under those conditions would be able to shoot within the range of 1.2 mil aiming error [as was done by the experts]?Here arises the crucial question: Was Lee Harvey Oswald a "proficient man with this weapon," with "considerable experience" in his background?
Mr. Simmons: Obviously, considerable experience would have to be in one's background to do so. And with this weapon, I think also considerable experience with this weapon, because of the amount of effort required to work the bolt. (3H449)
Well, in order to achieve three hits, it would not be required that a man be an exceptional shot. A proficient man with this weapon, yes. But I think with the opportunity to use the weapon and to get familiar with it, we could probably have the results reproduced by more than one firer. (3H450)
While in the Marines between 1956 and 1959, Oswald was twice tested for his performance with a rifle. On a scale of expert-sharpshooter-marksman, Oswald scored two points above the minimum for sharpshooter on one occasion (December 1956) and only one point above the minimum requirement for marksman on another (May 1959) -- his last recorded score. Colonel A. G. Folsom evaluated these scores for the Commission:The Marine Corps consider that any reasonable application of the instructions given to Marines should permit them to become qualified at least as a marksman. To become qualified as a sharpshooter, the Marine Corps is of the opinion that most Marines with a reasonable amount of adaptability to weapons firing can become so qualified. Consequently, a low marksman qualification indicates a rather poor "shot" and a sharpshooter qualification indicates a fairly good "shot." (19H17-18)There exists the possibility that Oswald's scores were either inaccurately or unfairly recorded, thus accounting for his obviously mediocre to horrendous performances with a rifle. However, there is other information independent of the scores to indicate that Oswald was in fact not a good shot. In his testimony, Colonel Folsom examined the Marine scorebook that Oswald himself had maintained, and elaborated on his previous evaluation:Mr. Ely: I just wonder, after having looked through the whole scorebook, if we could fairly say that all that it proves is that at this stage of his career he was not a particularly outstanding shot.Thus, according to Folsom, Oswald's best recorded score was the result of having "a good day"; otherwise, Oswald "was not a particularly outstanding shot."
Col. Folsom: No, no, he was not. His scorebook indicates . . . that he did well at one or two ranges in order to achieve the two points over the minimum score for sharpshooter.
Mr. Ely: In other words, he had a good day the day he fired for qualification?
Col. Folsom: I would say so. (8H311)
Folsom was not alone in his evaluation of Oswald as other than a good shot. The following is exerpted [sic] from the testimony of Nelson Delgado, one of Oswald's closest associates in the Marines:Mr. Liebeler: Did you fire with Oswald?The Report tried desperately to get around this unanimous body of credible evidence. First Marine Corps Major Eugene Anderson (who never had any association with Oswald) is quoted at length about how bad weather, poor coaching, and an inferior weapon might have accounted for Oswald's terrible performance in his second recorded test (R191). Here the Commission scraped the bottom of the barrel, offering this unsubstantiated, hypothetical excuse-making as apparent fact. Weather bureau records, which the Commission did not bother to check, show that perfect firing conditions existed at the time and place Oswald last fired for qualification -- better conditions in fact, than those prevailing during the assassination. As for the quality of the weapon fired in the test, it is probable that at its worst it would have been far superior to the virtual piece of junk Oswald allegedly owned and used in the assassination. Perhaps Anderson guessed correctly in suggesting that Oswald may have had a poor instructor; yet, from the time of his departure from the Marines in 1959 to the time of the assassination in 1963, Oswald had no instructor.
Mr. Delgado: Right; I was in the same line. By that I mean we were on the same line together, the same time, but not firing at the same position . . . and I remember seeing his. It was a pretty big joke, because he got a lot of "maggie's drawers," you know, a lot of misses, but he didn't give a darn.
Mr. Liebeler: Missed the target completely?
Mr. Delgado: He just qualified, that's it. He wasn't as enthusiastic as the rest of us. (8H235)
For its final "evaluation," the Report again turned to Anderson and Zahm. Each man is quoted as rating Oswald a good shot, somewhat above average, as compared to other Marines, and an "excellent" shot as compared to the average male civilian (R192). That the Commission could even consider these evaluations is beyond comprehension. Oswald's Marine scores and their official evaluation showed that he did not possess even "a reasonable amount of adaptability to weapons firing." If this is better than average for our Marines, pity the state of our national "defense"! The testimonies of Folsom and Delgado -- people who had direct association with Oswald in the Marines -- are not mentioned in the Report.
Thus, Oswald left the Marines in 1959 as a "rather poor shot." If he is to be credited with a feat such as the assassination, it must be demonstrated that he engaged in some activity between 1959 and 1963 that would have greatly developed his rifle capability and maintained it until the time of the shooting. The Report barely touched on the vital area of Oswald's rifle practice. In a brief two-paragraph section entitled "Oswald's Rifle Practice Outside the Marines," the Report painted a very sketchy picture, entirely inadequate in terms of the nature of the issue (R192-93). In all, Oswald is associated with a weapon eleven or twelve times, ending in May 1963.
Let us examine each of the Commission's assertions from this section of the Report:
1. During one of his leaves from the Marines, Oswald hunted with his brother Robert, using a .22 caliber bolt-action rifle belonging either to Robert or Robert's in-laws.
A footnote to this statement refers to Robert Oswald's testimony at 1H327, where essentially the same information is found.
2. After he left the Marines and before departing for Russia, Oswald, his brother, and a third companion went hunting for squirrels and rabbits. On that occasion Oswald again used a bolt-action .22 caliber rifle; and according to Robert, Lee Oswald exhibited an average amount of proficiency with that weapon.
Here again the Report cites Robert Oswald's testimony at 1H325-327. Although Robert did say that Lee showed "an average amount" of proficiency (1H326), his other descriptions of the occasion would indicate that none of the men showed any proficiency at all that day. This excursion took place in a "briar patch" that "was very thick with cottontails." Among the three men, eight rabbits were shot, "because it was the type of brush and thorns that didn't grow very high but we were able to see over them, so getting three of us out there it wasn't very hard to kill eight of them." Robert further illuminated the proficiency of the shooting when he revealed that it once took all three men firing to hit one rabbit.
3. While in Russia, Oswald obtained a hunting license joined a hunting club and went hunting about six times.
As mentioned in chapter 1, Liebeler criticized the inclusion of this statement in the Report, for Oswald hunted with a shotgun in Russia. Wrote Liebeler, "Under what theory do we include activities concerning a shotgun under a heading relating to rifle practice, and then presume not to advise the reader of that?" The sources given for the above-quoted statement are CEs 1042, 2007, and 1403 (which establish Oswald's membership in the club) and 1H96, 327-28, and 2H466. The latter references to the testimony do not support the Report's implication that Oswald's Russian hunting trips helped to further his marksmanship abilities.
In the portion of her testimony cited (1H96), Marina Oswald said that Oswald hunted only once during the time she knew him in the Soviet Union. This prompted a brief exchange not complimentary to Oswald's performance with his weapon during the hunt:Mr. Rankin: Was that when he went hunting for squirrels?Robert Oswald testified that Lee hunted "about six times" in Russia (1H327-328). He too revealed the poor nature of Oswald's performance:
Mrs. Oswald: If he marked it down in his notebook that he went hunting for squirrels, he never did. Generally they wanted to kill a squirrel when we went there, or some sort of bird, in order to boast about it, but they didn't.We talked about hunting over there, and he said that he had only been hunting a half dozen times, and so forth, and that he had only used a shotgun, and a couple of times he did shoot a duck.The third reference to testimony is most revealing. The source is Mrs. Ruth Paine, who related what Marina had told her:She quoted a proverb to the effect that you go hunting in the Soviet Union and you catch a bottle of Vodka, so I judge it was a social occasion more than shooting being the prime object. (2H466)Information not mentioned or cited in the Report corroborates the informal nature of Oswald's hunting in Russia as well as his usual poor performance with his weapon. CD 344 contains the transcript of a Secret Service interview with Marina recorded Sunday night, November 24, 1963, at the Inn of the Six Flags Motel at Arlington, Texas. This was Marina's first interview conducted while she was in protective custody. When asked about Oswald's membership in the hunting club, she made this response through an interpreter:While he was a member of this hunting club, he never attended any meetings. He simply had a card that showed his membership. She said Lee enjoyed nature and as a member of the club he was entitled to free transportation in an automobile which enabled him to go out of town.Marina added that Lee owned "a hunting gun" in Russia but "he never used it."
Other information came from Yuri I. Nosenko, a Soviet KGB staff officer who defected in February 1964 and apparently participated in or knew of the KGB investigation of Oswald in Russia. CD 451 contains an interview with Nosenko, but it is currently withheld from research. Liebeler, who saw CD 451 during his Commission work, composed a staff memorandum on March 9, 1964, repeating some of the information obtained from Nosenko. According to the memorandum, "Oswald was an extremely poor shot and it was necessary for persons who accompanied him on hunts to provide him with game."
4. Soon after Oswald returned from the Soviet Union he again went hunting with his brother, Robert, and used a borrowed .22 caliber bolt-action rifle.
Robert Oswald is again the source of this information. The hunting trip in question took place at the farm of Robert's in-laws. However, according to Robert, "we did just a very little bit [of hunting]. I believe this was on a Sunday afternoon and we didn't stay out very long" (1H327).
5. After Oswald purchased the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, he told his wife that he practiced with it. Marina Oswald testified that on one occasion she saw him take the rifle, concealed in a raincoat, from the house on Neely Street. Oswald told her he was going to practice with it.
Marina Oswald is the source of this above-quoted information. The footnote in the Report refers to 1H14-15; CE 1156, p. 442; CE 1404, pp. 446-48.
Marina's progression of statements relevant to Oswald's rifle practice is truly amazing. The Report quotes her incompletely and dishonestly, choosing only those statements which support the belief that Oswald practiced with the Carcano. The following is a chronological listing of Marina's relevant words:12/3/63, FBI report of interview with Marina: "MARINA said she had never seen OSWALD practice with his rifle or any other firearm and he had never told her that he was going to practice." (22H763)Thus Marina, until three months after the assassination, denied any knowledge whatsoever of Oswald's rifle practice; he never told her he practiced, and she knew of no practice. When she first appeared before the Commission, her story changed. She suddenly knew of one or two instances when Oswald mentioned he was going to practice, although she never saw him take the rifle from the house. Subsequent to her testimony, she changed her story again. After telling the FBI she saw Oswald clean the rifle before he even ordered it, she "admitted" an incident in which she saw Oswald remove the rifle concealed in a raincoat to practice at night. The following day her memory conveniently improved as she retracted her statement that she had seen Oswald with the rifle as early as January 1963. She added at this time that although Oswald had actually admitted practicing only once, she "deduced" he had practiced other times. This, essentially, was the final version of her story.
12/4/63, FBI report of interview with Marina: " She cannot recall ever hearing Oswald state that he was going to fire the rifle in practice or that he had fired it in practice." (22H785)
12/4/63, Secret Service report of interview with Marina: "The reporting agent interviewed Marina Oswald as to whether she knew of any place or of a rifle range where her husband could do some practicing with a rifle, and whether she ever saw her husband taking the rifle out of the house. She said that she never saw Lee going out or coming in to the house with a rifle and that he never mentioned to her doing any practice with a rifle." (23H393)
12/10/63, Secret Service report of interview with Marina: "Marina Oswald was asked if she ever saw her husband doing any dry practice with the rifle either in their apartments or any place else, and she replied in the negative." (23H402)
12/16/63, FBI report of interview with Marina: "She cannot recall that [Oswald] ever practiced firing the rifle either in New Orleans or in Dallas." (22H778)
2/3/64, Marina makes her first appearance before the Commission:
Mr. Rankin: Did you learn at any time that he had been practicing with the rifle?
Mrs. Oswald: I think he went once or twice. I didn't actually see him take the rifle, but I knew he was practicing.
Mr. Rankin: Could you give us a little help on how you knew?
Mrs. Oswald: He told me. And he would mention that in passing . . . he would say, "Well, today I will take the rifle along for practice." (1H14-15)
2/17/64, FBI report of interview with Marina: "MARINA advised OSWALD had told her after the WALKER incident that he had practiced with his rifle in a field near Dallas. She said further that in the beginning of January, 1963, at the Neely Street address, he on one occasion was cleaning his rifle and he said he had been practicing that day. [The rifle was not mailed until the end of March 1963.]
"MARINA was asked if she had ever seen OSWALD take the rifle from the house and she replied that she had not. She was asked if she had ever known the rifle to have been gone from the house at the same time OSWALD was gone from the house. She replied that she could not recall any such incident. She was then asked if it were true then that she had never seen OSWALD take the rifle from the house nor knew any occasion when he might have had the rifle at a place other than at home. She then admitted that she did know of such an occasion. She said this occasion occurred on an evening in March, 1963. On this evening, she and JUNE [their daughter] and OSWALD left the house at about 6:00 PM. OSWALD had his rifle wrapped up in a raincoat. . . . When OSWALD returned about 9:00 PM, he told her he had practiced with his rifle." (22H197)
2/18/64, FBI report of interview with Marina: "She advised she had been mistaken on February 17, 1964, when she said she had recalled OSWALD cleaning his rifle at Neely Street, at which time he made the statement he had been practicing. She said she is now able to place the date . . . as being shortly before the WALKER incident. . . . At one of the four or five times that she observed OSWALD cleaning his rifle at their home on Neely Street . . . he told her he had been practicing with the rifle but he did not say when he had practiced. On the other occasions of his cleaning the rifle . . . he did not say he had been practicing. MARINA deduced that he might have been practicing with the rifle." (22H785)
6/11/64, Marina again testifies before the Commission:
"Lee didn't tell me when he was going out to practice. I only remember one time distinctly that he went out because he took the bus. I don't know if he went to Love Field at that time. I don't -- after all this testimony, after all this testimony, when I was asked did he clean his gun a lot, and I answered yes, I came to the conclusion that he was practicing with his gun because he was cleaning it afterwards." (5H397)
Sen. Cooper: Did he ever tell you that he was practicing with a rifle?
Mrs. Oswald: Only after I saw him take the gun that one time. (5H398)
Marina was an entirely incredible witness. No honest jury could have believed any of her statements; for everything she said, there almost always existed a contradictory statement that she had made earlier. The Commission merely chose her most "juicy" descriptions of rifle practice and cited them, ignoring completely the other statements. The official use of Marina's testimony could best be described in Aldous Huxley's words, "You pays your money and you takes your choice."
6. According to George De Mohrenschildt, Oswald said he went target shooting with that rifle.
The footnote to this assertion refers to portions of the testimonies of George De Mohrenschildt, the Oswalds' "friend" in Dallas, and his wife, Jeanne. The combined stories of the De Mohrenschildts are so ridiculous as to make Marina's appear reliable and consistent.
In his testimony, George De Mohrenschildt had been relating the incident in which he and his wife paid a late-night visit to the Oswalds shortly after the Walker incident (as described in the previous chapter). De Mohrenschildt described how his wife had seen a rifle in the closet and offered "facts" unsubstantiated by any of the Commission's evidence:Mr. De Mohrenschildt: And Marina said "That crazy idiot is target shooting all the time." So frankly I thought it was ridiculous to shoot target shooting in Dallas, you see, right in town. I asked him "Why do you do that?"Despite the lack of corroborative evidence, De Mohrenschildt's story might have remained plausible had his wife not attempted to substantiate it. In the portion of her testimony cited but not quoted in the Report, she revealed -- to the exasperation of staff member Jenner -- the details of the incident ad absurdium:
Mr. Jenner: What did he say?
Mr. De Mohrenschildt: He said, "I go out and do target shooting. I like target shooting." (9H249)Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: I just asked what on earth is he doing with a rifle?The Commission did not see fit to include in the Report the fact that the extent of the De Mohrenschildts' knowledge of Oswald's "rifle practice" was that he fired at leaves while walking his baby daughter through public parks. Had this been included, no one could have believed the De Mohrenschildts.
Mr. Jenner: What did she [Marina] say?
Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: She said, "Oh, he just loves to shoot." I said, "Where on earth does he shoot? Where can he shoot?" when they lived in a little house. "Oh, he goes in the park and shoots at leaves and things like that." But it didn't strike me too funny, because I personally love skeet shooting. I never kill anything. But I adore to shoot at a target, target shooting.
Mr. Jenner: Skeet?
Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: I just love it.
Mr. Jenner: Didn't you think it was strange to have someone say he is going in a public park and shooting leaves?
Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: But he was taking the baby out. He goes with her, and that was his amusement.
Mr. Jenner: Did she say that?
Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: Yes; that was his amusement, practicing in the park, shooting leaves. That wasn't strange to me, because any time I go to an amusement park I go to the rifles and start shooting. So I didn't find anything strange.
Mr. Jenner: But you shot at the rifle range in these amusement parks?
Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: Yes.
Mr. Jenner: Little .22?
Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: I don't know what it was.
Mr. Jenner: Didn't you think it was strange that a man would be walking around a public park in Dallas with a high-powered rifle like this, shooting leaves?
Mrs. De Mohrenschildt: I didn't know it was a high-powered rifle. I had no idea. I don't even know right now. (9H316)
7. Marina Oswald testified that in New Orleans in May of 1963, she observed Oswald sitting with the rifle on their screened porch at night, sighting with the telescopic lens and operating the bolt.
For this the Report cites Marina's testimony at 1H21-22, 53-54, and 65 and CE 1814, p. 736. However, CE 1814 has nothing to do with Marina Oswald, or rifle practice (23H471).
Marina's testimony about the bolt-working sessions on the porch of the Oswald's New Orleans home was another spectacle of blatant self-contradiction, again none of which was reflected in the Report. In three days, Marina gave three opposing accounts represented in the Report as consistent. On February 3, Marina said:I know that we had a kind of a porch with a -- a screened-in porch, and I know that sometimes evenings after dark he would sit there with his rifle. I don't know what he did with it. I came there only by chance once and saw him just sitting there with his rifle. I thought he is merely sitting there and resting . . .On February 4, Marina offered a version of the porch practice different from that put forth in the Report:
Mr. Rankin: From what you observed about his having the rifle on the back porch, in the dark, could you tell whether or not he was trying to practice with the telescopic lens?
Mrs. Oswald: Yes. (1H21-22).Mr. Rankin: Did you ever see him working the bolt, the action that opens the rifle, where you can put a shell in and push it back -- during those times [on the porch]?Finally, on February 5, Marina reached the height of her confusion and merely retracted the statement attributed to her in the Report:
Mrs. Oswald: I did not see it, because it was dark and I would be in the room at that time. But I did hear the noise from time to time -- not often. (1H54)Mr. Rankin: You have told us about his practicing with the rifle, the telescopic lens, on the back porch at New Orleans, and also his using the bolt action that you heard from time to time. Will you describe that a little more fully to us, as best you remember?It is important to note that Marina originally denied any such New Orleans porch practice to the FBI. An FBI report of an interview with Marina on December 16, 1963, states that "She never saw [Oswald] clean [the rifle] nor did he ever hold it in her presence [in New Orleans] as best as she can recall" (22H778).
Mrs. Oswald: I cannot describe that in greater detail. I can only say that Lee would sit there with the rifle and open and close the bolt and clean it. No, he didn't clean it at that time. Yes -- twice he did clean it.
Mr. Rankin: And did he seem to be practicing with the telescopic lens, too, and sighting the gun on different objects?
Mrs. Oswald: I don't know. The rifle was always with this. I don't know exactly how he practiced, because I was in the house, I was busy. I just knew that he sits there with his rifle. I was not interested in it. (1H65)
If Marina's stories of porch practice are true (and here the reader may believe whichever version he likes), then Oswald practiced sighting with his rifle in total darkness on a screened porch. If this call be called "practice," it certainly cannot be applied to normal daylight firing.
The seven assertions as quoted above from the Report constitute the known extent of "Oswald's Rifle practice." Only one had substantiation. The others are either misrepresentations of the evidence or are merely unsupported altogether. Oswald performed badly on the hunts in which he participated. He did not even use a rifle in Russia although, to the Commission, intent on associating Oswald with a rifle as frequently as possible, a shotgun was the same as a rifle. Marina's assertions that Oswald practiced with the Carcano are rendered invalid by her earlier statements that Oswald never practiced. Even if the one incident she finally conceded was true, Oswald would have had a total of 64 minutes to practice (26H61). The De Mohrenschildts' description of Oswald's target shooting at leaves in the park warrants no serious consideration. As Marina admitted to the Commission, she did not know what Oswald did with the rifle when he sat with it on the porch of their New Orleans home (if he ever did this at all, as Marina originally denied).
Taking the issue further than did the Commission, we can be reasonably certain that Oswald engaged in no rifle practice in New Orleans during the summer of 1963 or in Dallas up until the time of the assassination.
If Marina was consistent in any of her statements, it was her denial that Oswald practiced with the rifle in New Orleans. While she recalled no such incident, she felt that Oswald could not have practiced without telling her.because as a rule he stayed home when he was not working. When he did go out, she did not see him take the rifle. (22H778)Marina told this to the FBI on December 16, 1963. She stuck to this story before the Commission, saying she knew "for sure" Oswald did not practice in New Orleans (1H21).
More reliable information relating to possible New Orleans practice comes from Adrian Alba, a New Orleans garage owner who spoke with Oswald about rifles during the summer of 1963. On November 25, 1963, Alba told the FBI thathe knew of no rifle practice which OSWALD had engaged in while in New Orleans, adding that from his conversation with OSWALD he did not believe that OSWALD belonged to any of the local gun clubs. He added that it would have been almost impossible for OSWALD to practice with a rifle around New Orleans unless he belonged to a gun club. (CD7:203)Alba repeated this information in his deposition before staff member Liebeler. He explained why Oswald could not have practiced in New Orleans unless he belonged to a gun club (which he did not). According to Alba, if someone attempted to practice in the only possible regions other than the clubs, "they would either run you off or arrest you for discharging firearms" (10H224).
There is no credible evidence in any form to indicate that Oswald practiced with his rifle after moving back to Dallas from New Orleans in October 1963. If the rifle was stored in the Paine garage as the Commission asserts (though proof of this is lacking), then the possibility that Oswald could have taken the rifle for practice is virtually nil. Likewise, Marina was emphatic that Oswald never practiced during the time she lived with the Paines. For what little reliance, if any, can be put in her testimony, I quote her relevant words:he couldn't have practiced while we were at the Paine's, because Ruth was there. But whenever she was not at home, he tried to spend as much time as he could with me -- he would watch television in the house. (1H53)There is no evidence indicating that the rifle was in Oswald's possession during this period. The woman who cleaned his small room on North Beckley never saw it there, although she did not go into the drawers of the "little wooden commode or closet" in the room (6H440-441). While several witnesses thought they had seen Oswald practicing at a rifle range in Dallas throughout September to November 1963, the evidence strongly indicates that the man observed neither was nor could have been Oswald, as the Report admits (R318-30). Various FBI and Secret Service checks failed to turn up any evidence of rifle practice by Oswald in the Dallas area (see CEs 2694, 2908, 3049).
And this was Oswald the marksman -- from the time he received his first weapons training in the Marines, where he went from a fairly good to a rather poor shot, to his few hunting trips with Robert Oswald, where he manifested his lack of skill with a rifle, to his presumed hunting in the Soviet Union with other than a rifle but the same absence of any proficiency, to the time of his assumed possession of the rifle, when no credible evidence indicated that he ever engaged in practice.
This obviously was not the caliber of shooter defined by expert Simmons as necessary to have pulled off the assassination alone. The presumed lone assassin, according to Simmons, had to have "considerable experience" in his background, especially "considerable experience with" the Carcano, and had to be "a proficient man with this weapon." Oswald was none of these. The only reliable evidence now known demonstrates that he was simply a poor shot who never did a thing to improve his capability.
As we have seen, the Commission consistently misrepresented the evidence relevant to Oswald's rifle capability. In its conclusion to this section of the Report, it retained its propensity for conjuring up what it wanted without regard to evidence. It concluded this:Oswald's Marine training in marksmanship, his other rifle experience and his established familiarity with this particular weapon show that he possessed ample capability to commit the assassination. (R195)The Commission, in essence, told the public that "rather poor shot" Oswald did what shooters in the NRA Master classification, the highest rating, could not do. It must have caused great concern among those who spend hours of concentrated practice each day trying to maintain proficiency with a rifle to learn that Oswald outdid the best and "established familiarity" with his rifle by never practicing, probably never even playing with his rifle!
Oswald did not have the capability to fire the assassination shots as the official theory proclaims. That he was a competent marksman is a pure myth created by the Commission in flagrant disregard of the evidence.
Analyses of the nature of the shots and related topics have appeared in Whitewash, chap. 4; Lane, chap. 9; Epstein, chap. 9; Meagher, chap. 4.
Frazier 2/21/69 testimony, p. 67.
Ibid., p. 148.
See also the excerpts from the Liebeler 9/6/64 Memorandum as discussed in chap. 1.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Weather Bureau, "Local Climatological Data," for San Diego, California, May 1959, and Los Angeles, California, May 1959.
I have seen this rifle at the National Archives and it does appear rather dilapidated. Fingerprint expert Latona called it "a cheap old weapon" (4H29). Ballistics expert Robert Frazier went into more detail on the condition of the rifle:
Mr. Eisenberg . . . . How much use does this weapon show?
Mr. Frazier. The stock is worn, scratched. The bolt is relatively smooth, as if it had been operated several times. I cannot actually say how much use the weapon has had. The barrel is -- was not, when we first got it, in excellent condition. It was, I would say in fair condition. In other words, it showed the effects of wear and corrosion. (3H394)
back to JFK | ratville times | rat haus | Index | Search