John F. Kennedy assassination rifle

John F. Kennedy assassination rifle

In March 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, alias "A. Hidell", purchased a 6.5 mm caliber Carcano rifle (also improperly called Mannlicher-Carcano) by mail order. [Warren Commission Report, p. 118-119.] He also purchased a revolver by the same method. [Warren Commission Report, p. 567-571.] It is officially accepted that this was the rifle that was used in the Texas School Book Depository to assassinate President Kennedy. [Warren Commission Report, p. 18-19.] A palmprint found upon examination of the rifle, and detective work tracing its sale, both eventually led to Oswald. [Warren Commission Report, p. 122-123.]

Purchase of the Carcano

On October 9, 1962, Oswald rented post office box number 2915 in Dallas, Texas. [Warren Commission Report, p. 118-119, 185.] The three names authorized to receive mail at the PO box were Oswald, his wife Marina, and "Alex J. Hidell", an alias invented by Oswald, which he would later use for his one-man branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans. [Warren Commission Report, p. 571.] On January 28, 1963, he ordered a Smith & Wesson "Victory" Model .38 special revolver using the same post office box. [Warren Commission Report, p. 174.]


Within minutes of the assassination of President Kennedy, Dallas police were led to the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository by the statements of eyewitness Howard Brennan, who saw a man shoot the final shot with a rifle from a corner window of the building, and three Depository employees who watched the motorcade from fifth floor windows and heard three shots being fired from directly above them. The rifle was found by Deputy Sheriff Weitzman and Officer Boone among cartons on the sixth floor. [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony of Seymour Weitzman] ] [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony of Eugene Boone] ] They initially came to what the Warren Commission concluded was the mistaken belief that the rifle was a Mauser, rather than the Carcano that Oswald owned.Fact|date=February 2007 Captain Fritz, of the Dallas Police Department — who arrived shortly after — later admitted that he did not know that much about the differences between a Carcano and a Mauser at that time. [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony of J.W. Fritz] .] In fact the appearance of the two types of weapons is similar, since the Carcano action (see this article) was historically based on the Mauser design, and the rifle stocks were similar. [Warren Commission Report, p. 645-646.]

The two officers who found the rifle — and later Captain Fritz — picked it up by the strap, but did not handle it until the arrival of Lt. Carl Day of the crime scene search section of the identification bureau. [Testimony of Weitzman, Boone, and Fritz, ibid.] Lt. Day then held the rifle by the stock, in one hand, "because it was too rough to hold a fingerprint" and inspected the rifle with a magnifying glass in his other hand. [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony of J.C. Day] .] He checked that the bolt had no prints on it before Fritz ejected a live round. [Day testimony, ibid.]

Day then took the rifle back to the crime lab to photograph it and to conduct further inspection. [Day testimony, ibid.] He found a palm print on the part of the rifle that could only have been put there when the rifle was not fully assembled. A palm print could not be placed on this portion of the rifle when assembled because the wooden foregrip covers the barrel. [Day testimony, ibid.] He did not complete his investigation, however, because he was told to stop, and to hand the rifle over to FBI Agent Vince Drain, because the FBI would finish the investigation. [Day testimony, ibid.] He later did his own research, however, and concluded that the prints were Oswald's, because by then he had Oswald's prints on file. [Day testimony, ibid.]

Police Chief Jesse Curry testified that he was ordered to send the rifle and all other evidence to the FBI in Washington. During the night after Kennedy's murder the rifle was taken by FBI agent Vincent Drain from Dallas to Washington D.C. who then gave it to FBI agent Robert Frazier. He testified that he kept it in the FBI office until November 27, 1963, whereupon it was sent back to Dallas and given back to someone at the Dallas Police Department for reasons unclear. It was later sent back to the FBI headquarters in Washington.

Sebastian Latona, supervisor of the Latent Fingerprint section of the FBI’s identification Division [Warren Commission Report, [ p.123] .] testified that the palm print found on the barrel of the rifle belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald. Experts agree that palm prints are as unique as fingerprints for purposes of establishing identification.

During his testimony before the Warren Commission, Lt. Day identified Exhibit 139 as the weapon he believed officers Weitzman and Boone found in the afternoon of the murder. [ [] [] [] [] ]


This rifle had the markings, “MADE ITALY”, “CAL.6.5”, “1940”, and the serial number C2766 (Warren Commission report pg. 81). Joseph D. Nicol, superintendent of the Illinois Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and Robert A. Frazier, FBI special agent, testified to the Warren Commission. [Warren Commission Report, p. 84] A distinctive gouge mark and identical dimensions also identify it as the rifle in the Oswald “backyard photographs”.

A 6.5 mm convert|160|gr|abbr=on. round-nosed fully copper-jacketed military-type bullet, of a type normally used in 6.5 mm military rifles (such as the Carcano) was found on a stretcher in Parkland hospital. This bullet (CE 399, see single bullet theory) was ballistically matched to the rifle found in the book depository building. A partial palm print of Oswald was also found on the barrel of the gun. [ [ Primary Sources: Mannlicher Rifle ] ]

*Rifle:6.5 x 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle with a six-round magazine:Serial number C2766:Western Cartridge Co. ammunition with a 160 grain (10.37 g) round nose bullet:Side-mounted Ordnance Optics 4 x 18 telescopic sight

The Warren Commission contended that Oswald kept the rifle wrapped in a blanket and hidden in the garage of friends Michael and Ruth Paine, where Marina was living at the time, and Oswald would occasionally visit. Paine's own testimony is less conclusive about the matter, describing only "a package wrapped in a blanket", which he thought to be camping equipment. He did find this odd, saying to himself "they don't make camping equipment of iron pipes any more." [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony Of Michael R. Paine] ]

The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald smuggled the rifle into the Texas School Book Depository on the morning of the assassination in a brown paper package — about two feet long — which he told a co-worker contained "curtain rods", although Oswald later denied this, and said that only his lunch was in the package. (He later said that he did not own a rifle.) [ [ The Last Words of Lee Harvey Oswald] .]

The FBI determined that the rifle was distributed from Crescent Firearms Inc, which shipped the rifle with the serial number C2766 to Klein’s Sporting Goods Co. Klein's Sporting Goods shipped the rifle to post office box 2915 in Dallas, Texas rented under the name of Lee H. Oswald. The order had a coupon attached with "A. Hidell" printed on it, a name given on the post office box rental application as someone allowed to receive mail in the box.

The handwriting perfectly matched that of Oswald's when compared to his passport application and letters he had written. The Italian Armed Forces Intelligence Agency reported that the rifle with the serial number of C2766 was unique in its records. Lee Harvey Oswald rented the post office box to which the rifle was shipped. [Warren Commission Report, p. 119.]

In 1979, photographic analysis by the HSCA found that the rifle in the National Archives was photographically identical to the one found in the book depository and photographed at the time by numerous journalists and the police (this analysis included a number of distinctive identifying marks). The rifle was also identical in its dimensions to the one seen in the Oswald backyard photos, and the identification of the rifle with that owned by Oswald extends to one larger identifying mark of damage on the stock (which can also be seen in the Oswald “backyard photographs”). [ [ The Assassin ] ]


The Smith & Wesson "Victory" Model .38 Special revolver that Oswald had in this hand when he was arrested in the movie theater, was identified by model and serial number as that which was had been purchased by mail order coupon, to the same P.O. Box as the rifle, and also by an “A.J. Hidell”, with handwriting that matched Oswald’s.


On the day Kennedy was killed, Oswald was wearing a shirt of dark blue, grey-black and orange-yellow cotton fibers over a white t-shirt, the same type of fibers that were recovered from the rifle after close examination by experts.

In the crevice between the butt-plate of the rifle (and the wooden stock of the rifle) a tuft of several cotton fibers of dark blue, grey-black and orange-yellow shades were found.

After tests of colors, shades, and weave patterns of the fibers found on the gun, Paul Stombaugh, a special agent of the FBI Laboratory's Hair and Fiber Unit, matched the fibers found on the gun to the fibers from Oswald’s shirt. [Warren Commission Report, p. 124.]

Firing range

During his Marine Corps service in December 1956, Oswald scored a rating of "sharpshooter" (twice achieving 48 and 49 out of 50 shots during rapid fire at a stationary target convert|200|yd [183 m] away using a standard issue M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle). Although, in May 1959, he qualified as a "marksman" (a lower classification than that of "sharpshooter"), military experts, after examining his records, characterized his firearms proficiency as "above average" and said he was, when compared to American civilian males of his age, "an excellent shot". [Warren Commission Report, Chapter 4: The Assassin, p. 191, [ Oswald's Marine Training AARC Library site] .]

However, Nelson Delgado, a marine in the same unit as Oswald, used to laugh at Oswald's shooting prowess and testified that Oswald often got "Maggie's drawers"; meaning a red flag that is waved from the rifle pits to indicate a "complete miss" of the target during qualification firing. He also said that Oswald didn't seem to care if he missed or not. [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony Of Nelson Delgado JFK Assassination Net] .]

Skeptics have argued that expert marksmen could not duplicate Oswald's alleged feat in their first try during re-enactments by the Warren Commission (1964) and CBS (1967). In those tests the marksmen attempted to hit the target three times within 5.6 seconds. This time span has been heavily disputed. The Warren Commission itself estimated that the time span between the two shots that hit President Kennedy was 4.8 to 5.6 seconds. If the second shot missed (assuming the first and third shots hit the president), then 4.8 to 5.6 seconds was the total time span of the shots. If the first or third shot missed, that would give a minimum time of 7.1 to 7.9 seconds for the three shots. [Warren Commission Report, p. 117.] Modern analysis of a digitally enhanced Zapruder film suggests that the first, second, and final shot may have taken 8.3 seconds.

Many of CBS's 11 volunteer marksmen, who (unlike Oswald) had no prior experience with a properly "sighted" Carcano, were able to hit the test target two times in under the time allowed. The only man who scored three hits was a firearms examiner from Maryland by the name of Howard Donahue. The CBS test is disputed by Michael Griffith, who says: "In the CBS rifle test, not one of the eleven expert shooters scored two hits on the first attempt, and seven of them failed to do so on any attempt. This is especially revealing because the CBS test was the most realistic to date." [ [ Spartacus.schoolnet article] [ karws website] ]

FBI tests

The FBI tests of the Carcano's accuracy showed:

1) FBI firearms expert Robert A. Frazier testified that "It is a very accurate weapon. The targets we fired show that." [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony of Robert A. Frazier] .] From convert|15|yd, all three bullets in a test firing landed approximately 2 1/2 inches high, and convert|1|in|mm|sing=on to the right, in the area about the size of a dime. [Warren Commission Exhibit CE-549.] At convert|100|yd, the test shots landed 2 1/2 to convert|5|in|mm high, within a 3 to convert|5|in|mm|sing=on circle. Frazier testified that the scope's high variation would actually work in the shooter's favor: with a target moving away from the shooter, no "lead" correction would have been necessary to follow the target. "At that range, at that distance, 175 to convert|265|ft|m, [The Warren Commission estimated that President Kennedy was 176.9 to convert|190.8|ft|m from the sixth floor corner window of the Depository when he was shot in the neck, and convert|265.3|ft|m when he was shot in the head.] with this rifle and that telescopic sight, I would not have allowed any lead — I would not have made any correction for lead merely to hit a target of that size."

2) The rifle was unable to be "sighted-in", using the scope, without the installation of 2 metal shims (small metal plates) which were not present when the rifle arrived for testing, and were never found. [ Warren Commission Hearings: 3 WCH 440-5.] Frazier testified that there was "a rather severe scrape" on the scope tube, and that the sight could have been bent or damaged. He was unable to determine when the defect occurred before the FBI received the rifle and scope on November 27, 1963.

Ballistics Research Laboratory tests

In an effort to test the rifle under conditions which simulated those which prevailed during the assassination, the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the U.S. Army's Ballistics Research Laboratory had expert riflemen fire the assassination weapon from a tower at three silhouette targets at distances of 175, 240, and convert|265|ft|m. [Warren Commission Hearings, [ Testimony of Ronald Simmons] .] Using the assassination rifle mounted with the telescopic sight, three marksmen, rated as master by the National Rifle Association, each fired two series of three shots. In the first series the firers required time spans of 4.6, 6.75, and 8.25 seconds respectively. On the second series they required 5.15, 6.45, and 7 seconds. The marksmen took as much time as they wanted for the first target at convert|175|ft|m, and all hit the target. For the first four attempts, the firers missed the second shot at convert|240|ft|m by several inches. Five of the six shots hit the third target at convert|265|ft|m, the distance of President Kennedy from the sixth floor window when he was struck in the head. [Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 17, CE 586 [ Table, based on figures obtained in tests with the assassination rifle, showing "Hit probability (with the rifle) as a function of range and aiming error"] .] None of the marksmen had any practice with the assassination weapon beforehand except to work the bolt.

CBS conducted a firing test in 1967 at the H. P. White Ballistics Laboratory located in Street, Maryland. For the test 11 marksmen from diverse backgrounds were invited to participate: 3 Maryland State Troopers, 1 weapons engineer, 1 sporting goods dealer, 1 sportsman, 1 ballistics technician, 1 ex-paratrooper, and 3 H. P. White employees. CBS provided several Carcano rifles for the test. The MC rifle WC-139 was not used in this test. The targets were color coded orange for head/shoulder silhouette and blue for a near miss. The results of the CBS test were as follows: 7 of 11 shooters were able to fire three rounds under 5.6 seconds (64%). Of those 7 shooters, 6 hit the orange target once (86%), and 5 hit the orange target twice (71%). Out of 60 rounds fired, 25 hit the orange (42%), 21 hit the blue portion of the target (35%), and there were 14 misses on the target (23%).

One volunteer was unable to operate his rifle effectively so the following statistics are based on the 10 remaining shooters. The average time of all 10 was 5.64 seconds. The mode was 5.55 seconds and the mean was 5.70 seconds. The average for the top five shooters was 5.12 seconds, and for the bottom five shooters 6.16 seconds. There was a high occurrence of jamming during the test. On average the rifles jammed after 6 rounds. The most rounds fired without jamming were 14, 11, 10 in a row. The least was 0 (back to back).

The first shooter to lead off the experiment was Al Sherman, Maryland State Trooper. The record of his effort: 5.0 sec: 2 orange, 1 blue / 6.0 sec: 2 orange, 1 blue / NT (jam at 3rd cartidge)/ 5.2 sec: 1 orange, 2 low / 5.0 sec: 1 orange, 2 blue. Sherman was able to fire 8 rounds before his rifle jammed. Of all shooters, the fastest times were: 4.1 sec, 4.3 sec, 4.9 sec, 5.0 sec. The best accuracy was 3 orange in 5.2 seconds. The rifles were oiled and allowed to cool down between shooters. CBS reporter Dan Rather attended this experiment.

During the investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976–1978), the lead attorneys for the Committee, Robert Blakey and Gary Cornwell, were allowed to use WC-139 at an FBI firing range. The attorneys wanted to see how fast the bolt action could be operated. Blakey was able to fire two rounds in 1.5 seconds and Cornwell fired two rounds in 1.2 seconds. This was an experiment to test a possible theory that Oswald in his excitement may have pointed and fired, as opposed to aimed and fired. Some critics of the Warren Commission had claimed it was impossible to fire a Carcano rifle in less than 2.3 seconds. Both the CBS and HSCA tests proved conclusively this claim is not accurate. ["The committee test fired a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle using the open iron sights. It found that it was possible for two shots to be fired within 1.66 seconds." [ HSCA Report, p. 83] .]

Other research

Vincent Bugliosi puts forward the hypothesis that Oswald fired the Carcano over open sights, which reduced the time necessary to take the three shots postulated by the Warren Commission. He notes that with the downward slope on Dealey Plaza, President Kennedy's head would have appeared to Oswald to be a stationary target as the vehicle moved down and away at a slow speed. This suggestion also therefore makes any claim that the scope was defective to be meaningless with respect to Oswald's shooting ability. [Vincent Bugliosi, "Reclaiming History"]

Later history

In December 1964, Lee Oswald's widow Marina sold whatever right, interest, or title that she had in the rifle and pistol for $5,000; and in March 1965 she sold whatever power of sale she had in them for an additional $5,000. A $35,000 additional payment to Marina Oswald was contingent upon the buyer obtaining possession "free and clear of all adverse claims."

The buyer, Denver oilman and gun fancier John J. King, [" [,9171,835196,00.html The Guns of Dallas] ", "Time", March 4, 1966.] commenced an action in federal court in May 1965 for the recovery of the weapons from possession of the U.S. government. In response, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Internal Revenue Service began an "in rem" forfeiture proceedings against the rifle and the pistol. [" [ U.S. v. One 6.5 mm. Mannlicher-Carcano Military Rifle] ", 250 F.Supp. 410 (N.D. Tex. 1966).] The U.S. District Court held that Oswald had used fictitious names when purchasing the weapons, in violation of the Federal Firearms Act, [Federal Firearms Act, [ 15 U.S.C. §§ 901-909] , and the regulations promulgated thereunder, 26 C.F.R. 177.51.] which allowed for immediate seizure and forfeiture of any such illegally obtained weapons.

The lower court's decision was reversed upon appeal, with the appellate court holding that "There is no provision in the Federal Firearms Act requiring a purchaser to use his true name when ordering weapons from a dealer licensed under the Act", and that the government would have to acquire title to the weapons by condemnation. [" [ King v. United States] ", 364 F.2d 235 (5 Cir. 1966).] Thereafter, in November 1966, the U.S. Attorney General, acting under the authority provided by Public Law 89-318, [Act of November 2, 1965, 79 Stat 1185.] published his determination that the various items considered by the Warren Commission, including the weapons which were the subject of the forfeiture proceeding, should be acquired by the United States. Upon the publication of the Attorney General's determination, "all rights, title, and interest in and to" the weapons "vested in the United States."

The buyer sued the U.S. government for compensation for the taking of the weapons, but his claim was rejected by the court, which wrote,:The demand of plaintiff for $5,000,000 is on its face inequitable — in fact unconscionable — and would appear to be based on some projected market value which could only arise from the fact that these are curiosities which derive their character as such from the assassination and which can be exhibited on a profit basis. But the uniqueness of the items in question, in our opinion, precludes reception of evidence of market value. We can see no demonstrable market for these particular objects. [" [ King v. U.S.] ", 292 F.Supp. 767, 775 (D.C. Colo. 1968).]


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