Oswald Backyard Photos
Never before or since had a series of photograph been this throughly analyzed. From the day they were discovered as the police raided Lee Harvey Oswald’s home, the photos of Oswald posing with a rifle and two communist newspapers were subjected to intense scrutiny and subsequently provided enough fodder for conspiracy theorists.
The photos, taken by Oswald’s wife Marina in the spring of 1963, were highly important because the rifle Oswald was holding appeared to be the one used to assassinate President Kennedy. It was made public in late February 1964, when it appeared on the covers of many publications, but the most notably, on the cover of Life magazine. To enhance the image’s quality, the photo had been retouched in several areas — a common practice in the magazine world. Many readers noticed some details of photo differed from publication to publication, and a controversy arose.
In particular, the readers noted that on the cover of Life (top) Oswald’s rifle had a sniper scope, but on the cover of the Detroit Free Press and Newsweek, there was no sniper scope. It later transpired that a copy editor accidentally erased the scope while altering the image’s contrast, but it was too late. On seeing the photo from inside the jail, Oswald insisted he had never seen it before and that someone had superimposed his head onto another body. Skeptics — including those geniuses behind the movie J.F.K. — pointed at the strange line across Oswald’s chin suggesting the head may have been pasted into the photo (This line was later determined to be a water spot).
To reassure the restless public, the C.B.S. asked a professional photographer to reproduce the photos as part of an ambitious four-part CBS documentary called “The Warren Report”. The photographer, Lawrence Schiller recreated the picture at the same address, 214 Neeley Street, on the same date and time in March, using a model, and discovered that a straight nose shadow corresponded with an angular body shadow, just as in the disputed picture. Unsatisfied, the House Select Committee on Assassination commissioned a further panel of photographic experts to study the photo. After a meticulous examination that involved microscopic analysis and photogrammetric comparison of Oswald’s face to other photos of him, the experts answered twenty-two points raised by skeptics, and concluded the photos were genuine.
This drawn-out analysis subjected onto the contents of the photo eclipsed other more important questions: Why was the photo taken? How many versions or copies were made? To whom were they sent and why? What is the meaning behind mysterious and foreboding phrases in various languages scrawled on the backs of some photos? Answers to these remain inscrutable, but they don’t suggest a vast underlying conspiracy. Yet the speculations that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on the orders of the CIA, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson, the Kremlin, the FBI or the military industrial complex will simply not go away. Tall tales are part of the catharsis process by which many deal with traumatic life events, and the conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination center on the public’s inability to grasp that even the most powerful man on earth could be simply gunned down by a lone gunman.