The State of the Evidence, The Evidence of the State (page 2)

by Edward Jay Epstein

Although the suspicion has been raised that the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was "framed" as the murder weapon by a conspirator who planted the nearly-intact bullet on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital, it lacks any reasonable persuasiveness because i) the conspirator would have no certainty that he could recover from the hospital, car, autopsy and crime scene the "real" bullets that presumably would not match the Mannlicher-Carcano; ii) the fragments found in the car and Governor Connally's wrist match the Mannlicher-Carcano ammunition; iii) it would be pointless to frame the Mannlicher-Carcano, which the conspirators would have had to have in their possession anyway to leave at the murder site, since it was a weapon perfectly capable of hitting its target. So why not use it?

We thus know that the Mannlicher Carcano found in the depository fired at least two of the shots at the President's motorcade.

3. How many snipers fired at the President's motorcade?

The best evidence of the sequence of events remains the ten-second long film taken by Zapruder. It fixes the earliest time Kennedy could have been first hit in the back, the latest time Connally was wounded, and the exact moment the President was shot in the head. From an analysis of this film, the Warren Commission staff determined that the interval between the time Kennedy and Connally were first shot was not long enough for a single rifleman to have fired two shots: therefore either both men were hit by the same bullet, or there had to be two riflemen. This conclusion was confirmed by the more sophisticated photographic analysis of the House Select Committee's photographic evidence panel and of independent researchers.

Despite the crucial implications of this photographic evidence, the issue of whether Kennedy and Connally were hit by the same or separate bullets has not been satisfactorily resolved. The FBI concluded it was separate shots, the Warren Commission begged the question as "not relevant" and the House Select Committee, which went most thoroughly into this evidence, was unable to reach a definitive conclusion because members of its 9-doctor panel irreconcilably disagreed. Eight doctors believed it was possible, though not necessarily probable. that the bullet recovered had caused both Kennedy's back wound and Connally's, multiple wounds; one doctor, however, Cyril Wecht concluded from the photographic and medical evidence that it was absolutely impossible for those wounds to have been caused by a single bullet. Since Wecht marshals considerable evidence to support his view (as will be recalled from Epilogue I), we are left with two possible scenarios.

A. The Single Bullet Scenario

One rifleman fired three bullets from the Mannlicher Carcano in the depository. The first bullet missed the motorcade entirely and incidentally wounded a bystander, James Teague. The second bullet hit Kennedy and Connally and was recovered from Connally's stretcher. About three seconds later, the rifleman fired a third bullet which killed Kennedy, abandoned his rifle, and fled the depository.

B. The Separate Shot Scenario

One rifleman fired the first shot that hit Kennedy in the back from an unidentified rifle. The bullet exited the car and was not recovered. He then fired a second shot that went astray and nicked bystander Teague. About one second after the first rifleman fired, a second rifleman, using the Mannlicher Carcano, hit Connally; and, with his second shot, hit Kennedy in the head. While the first rifleman left the depository with his rifle and shell casings, the second rifleman left his behind.

Both scenarios are consistent with the testimony of eyewitnesses-- one of whom saw a second person near the sniper's windows-- and the fingerprints found on the boxes arranged at the site. So we can conclude that either one or two riflemen participated in the assassination and that the one with the Mannlicher Carcano killed Kennedy.

4. Whose Mannlicher-Carcano was it?

The best evidence that identifies the ownership of the murder weapon is the handwriting of the person who ordered the rifle under the name "A. Hidell" from a mail order house in Chicago in March 1963 and rented the post office box in Dallas to which it was shipped.

It was Lee Harvey Oswald.

FBI and Treasury Department experts determined in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald had signed the name "A. Hidell" on both the purchase order for the rifle and the post box application. A half dozen other documents found in his possession, that Oswald used the alias "Hidell". The House Select Committee panel of questioned document experts, after re-examining the signatures, unequivocally agreed. So Oswald had ordered the murder weapon-- and it had been shipped to his post office box from Chicago on March 20,1963.


Marina Oswald confirmed that Oswald had received the rifle in late March, and four other witnesses--George De Mohrenschildt, Jeanne De Mohrenschildt, Alexander Taylor and Gary Taylor-- saw that Oswald had a rifle in either late March or Early April.

The best evidence of Oswald's actual possession of the Mannlicher- Carcano, however, is the much disputed photographs of Oswald holding the rifle in his hand that Marina Oswald said she took on Sunday, March 31, 1963 in the backyard of their house in Dallas. Oswald claimed after his arrest that the photograph had been faked by superimposing his head on the rifleman's body but this theory is contradicted by three pieces of evidence established by the House Select Committee. First, De Mohrenschildt produced in 1976 an inscribed copy of the backyard photograph which Oswald had given him in April 1963. The Committee's questioned document panel authenticated the signature-- which meant that Oswald had signed (and dated) the photograph he later claimed was faked. Second, by examining the negative with enhanced analytic techniques, the Committee' panel of photographic experts found a unique random pattern of wear on the rifle in the photograph which corresponded exactly to one on the Mannlicher-Carcano Oswald had purchased. Since the experts agreed this could not be faked, the rifle in the photograph had to be Oswald's. Third, by microscopically examining the scratch marks that Oswald's Imperial Reflex camera distributed on all negatives pulled through it, which are the equivalent of camera fingerprints, the panel established unequivocally that the backyard photographs could only have been taken by Oswald's camera, just as Marina had testified. Moreover, using digital processing analysis and stereo optic viewing techniques that did not exist in 1963, the panel concluded there was no signs of having been faked. Even two experts who had previously disputed the authenticity of the photographs (using copies, rather than the original) now agreed that the photograph was genuine. In light of this evidence, there can be no serious doubt that Oswald possessed the murder weapon at the end of March 1963.