Chapter 4g: Thoughts on the Shots



Above: Lee Harvey Oswald, firing an M-1 rifle while in the Marines. This was a semi-automatic weapon, meaning that each succeeding bullet entered the chamber without the shooter having to operate a bolt. This made it much easier to fire than the bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald supposedly fired on 11-22-63. 

Thoughts on the Shots

Beyond the reasons already discussed, there are purely technical reasons to doubt Oswald was one among any number of shooters. The sniper's nest shooter was in a very crammed space, rapid firing on a target moving left to right, and was purported to have taken these shots while sitting on a box, using a gun rest. There are reasons to believe a man with Oswald's limited training would not only not be able to pull this off, but would not even attempt to fire shots in this manner. Consider:

  • Although Oswald's shooting scores while in the Marines were adequate at the beginning of his service, Allison Folsom, the Marine Corps officer contacted by the Warren Commission to discuss Oswald's training, said that Oswald's score on the last test he took in 1959 indicated he was a "poor shot". Folsom actually went further than this, and volunteered that, due to inactivity, there was reason to believe Oswald's skills had depreciated even further since that time. 
  • The inherent difficulty in rapid-firing a rifle like the presumed assassination rifle is made clear, moreover, by a 1946 copy of The Bluejackets Manual, a guide presented members of the U.S. Navy. When instructing on the proper use of the 1903A1, the American equivalent to the presumed assassination rifle, it reads: "In rapid fire keep the butt to the shoulder. To load, twist the rifle to the right, lower the muzzle, and work the bolt, being careful to draw it fully back so it will eject the empty cartridge case and not cause a jam. It will become easy after practice, and can be done in one motion. As the bolt is closed, the rifle is twisted to the left and the muzzle raised to its original position." Well, there it is. Although a trick shot artist on youtube has figured out a way to shoot the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle without having to re-acquire his target between shots, members of the Navy, and presumably the Marines, were trained to turn their rifle to the right when pulling back the bolt, which would necessitate their having to re-acquire their target after each shot. Now, was Oswald trained to do this? Uhh, we don't know. There is no record--none whatsoever--that Oswald received even one second of training--at any time in his life--on the most efficient way to fire a bolt-action rifle. 
  • And that's not the only giant chasm between Oswald's documented training and his purported feat. Military Science and Tactics, a WWII-era textbook written "Conforming to the War Department Program", which would presumably be relevant to Oswald's training 14 years later, reflects that U.S. soldiers are trained to fire from the Prone, Sitting, Kneeling, and Standing positions. The drawing for the "Sitting" position is of a soldier sitting on the ground. This should make us suspect, then, that Oswald had never practiced shooting while sitting on a box. 
  • The aforementioned copy of The Bluejackets Manual, and a 1987 copy of A Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks, a guide provided members of the Army, for that matter, support this suspicion. The Navy manual presents 4 shooting positions: prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing, and the Army manual presents 6: prone not supported, prone supported, kneeling not supported, kneeling supported, standing, and foxhole. In none of these positions is the shooter sitting on anything other than the ground. 
  • Let us now address the elephant in the room--that Oswald was purported to be firing on a moving target. Oswald's Marine Corps scorebook, CE 239, reflects that he had only been trained to shoot on stationary targets, and never from elevation. It takes a bit of practice to learn how to lead a moving target, and a bit more practice to learn how firing from elevation has an effect on this lead. For one thing, there's less bullet drop. A military rifle fires slightly above its crosshairs, to account for the effects of gravity on the bullet. When firing downwards from elevation, however, the gravity effect is lessened, and an inexperienced sniper will probably overshoot his target. The difficulty of shooting a moving target is confirmed by the 2007 book, To Be a Military Sniper, which notes "engaging a moving target is a skill that can be developed and maintained only through constant practice." Not only had Oswald never received training as a sniper, the Warren Commission found no evidence Oswald had EVER fired his rifle on a moving target.
  • So what would his doing so entail, that is, how would his shooting at a moving target differ from his shooting at a stationary target? Let's start with his position. In a section entitled "General Rules for Positions," Military Science and Tactics asserts "(1) To assume any position first face the target and then face half right. In any position the rifle makes an angle of about 45 degrees with the front of the body or the spine." If Oswald was the shooter in the sniper's nest, then, his training would have dictated his body face the west side of the building, with his upper torso and rifle turned 45% to the left so he could fire out the window. In any event he wouldn't have been sitting on a box with his body facing out the window and his rifle in line with his body, as presented in most re-enactments of the shooting. 
  • Now let's see how his firing on a moving target affects this position. In a section entitled "Marksmanship, Moving Targets", Military Science and Tactics asserts that "There is no unit of measure for leads that the rifleman can quickly apply except the target itself. That is all he sees. So the unit of measure for leads is the actual target...When the trigger is correctly squeezed the rifleman does not know when the piece will go off. Accordingly, when he has obtained the correct lead, the rifle must continue to be swung smoothly and uniformly to maintain the lead while squeezing the trigger. The tendency to stop swinging the piece when the lead has been obtained, and fire instantly by jerking the trigger, must be avoided. This is of utmost importance. The rifleman begins to squeeze the trigger as soon as he has his lead, and maintains his lead by swinging the piece while pressing the trigger." Well, this is interesting. Oswald's facing west would have made his tracking a target from directly to his left to 45 degrees to his left a bit awkward, particularly if he was using a box as a rifle rest. In fact, this passage should make us suspect that a military-trained sniper would not even use a rifle rest for such a shot, as it would only prohibit the "smooth and uniform" movement of his rifle as he tracked his target.  
  • A 1970's era U.S. Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Data Book in my possession confirms this last point. Its section on "Leads" reads: "Moving targets are the most difficult to hit. When engaging a target which is moving laterally across his line of sight, the sniper must concentrate on moving his weapon with the target while aiming at a point some distance ahead. Holding this 'lead', the sniper fires and follows through with the movement after the shot. Using this method, the sniper reduces the possibility of missing..." 
  • Intriguingly, however, this Data Book proceeds: "Another method of leading a target, and one which is used extensively by snipers, is known as the 'point' lead. By 'point lead' we mean the sniper selects a point some distance in front of his target and holds the crosshairs on that point. As the target moves across the horizontal crosshair, it will eventually reach a point which is the proper lead distance from the center. At that instant the sniper must fire his shot. This is a very simple method of hitting a moving target, but a few basic marksmanship skills must not be forgotten: The sniper must not only estimate his target range, but also its speed and angle of travel relative to his line of sight in order to determine the correct lead. The sniper must continue to concentrate on his crosshairs and not on his target. The sniper must continue to squeeze the trigger and not jerk or flinch prior to the shot being fired." To Be a Military Sniper confirms this point, noting that shooting in this manner is "the preferred method of engaging moving targets." Well, this raises a few questions: 1) when would Oswald have learned to fire in this manner?; and 2) if a shooter did use a cardboard box for a rifle rest, and fire after acquiring a "point lead" and MISS, as supposedly happened in Dallas, wouldn't this cut into the likelihood of his successfully firing two rapid-fire shots in the next 8 seconds? Let's see. He hasn't been actively tracking the target. He has already guessed wrong. Are we to believe he then re-acquired his target, tracked it successfully through a tree, and fired successfully, not once but twice, the first time in 3 seconds, and the second time in 5 seconds? 
  • An even greater reason to doubt Oswald established a "point" lead on Kennedy comes from looking at the sniper's nest view above. The President would have been coming into view not from the left of the scope, but from below--out from under the rifle barrel. This would have given Oswald (or the sniper presumed to have been Oswald) very little time to react, particularly if he was using the iron sights. It follows then that the sniper almost certainly tracked Kennedy along Elm Street, and did not use a cardboard box as a rifle rest. 
  • There are reasons to doubt Oswald did the tracking, moreover. On the next page of the data book, when discussing the lead times given walking soldiers, based upon the angle they are walking in relation to the sniper, another problem becomes clear: "The leads previously mentioned hold true for a right-handed shooter firing on a target moving from his right to his left. If the target is moving from left to right, the lead must be doubled due to a natural hesitation to follow through when swinging against the shooting shoulder. This hesitation is extremely difficult to overcome even by the most experienced shooters."
  • This hesitation is confirmed, moreover, by The Ultimate Guide to U.S. Special Forces Skills, Tactics and Techniques (2011). When discussing shooting on moving targets, it notes "Double leads are sometimes necessary for a sniper who uses the swing-through method on a target that is moving toward his firing side. The double lead is necessary because of the difficulty that a person has in swinging his weapon smoothly toward his firing side. Practice on a known-distance range and meticulous record-keeping are required to hone a sniper's moving target engagement skill."Hmm... The target car was moving upward from the sniper's nest shooter's left to his right. Oswald was a right-handed shooter. Now...are we to believe he both had the practice necessary to "hone a sniper's moving target engagement skill," and that he somehow knew how to compensate for his "natural hesitation"? Or was it just dumb luck he hit Kennedy twice in three tries?
  • In 1993, noted gun expert Massad Ayoob wrote an article for Handgunner Magazine in which he discussed his own impression of the shots attributed to Oswald. He noted that the two fastest shooters in a 1992 re-enactment of Oswald's purported shooting feat were both left-handed shooters firing from their left shoulder, and operating the bolt with their right hand. 
  • Although the specifics of this re-enactment were not described, the Summer/Fall 1992 issue of the "Dateline: Dallas" newsletter mentioned that Richard Davis, the owner of Chance Body Armour, had sponsored a recent event in Central Lake, Michigan, in which 50 shooters tried to replicate Oswald's shooting by firing a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from a wooden platform at a cardboard target traveling at 11 miles an hour. According to the article, "Some sharpshooters got off three shots in 5.6 seconds matching Oswald's purported action. A couple were able to squeeze off two shots in 1.66 seconds with the sluggish rifle. After two days of shooting, however, not one marksman was able to duplicate the speed and accuracy of the sixth floor assassin as outlined by the Warren Commission Report." 
  • Irrespective of these results, moreover, Ayoob's observation on the two fastest shooters supports the data book's assertion left-handed shooters have a noticeable advantage when shooting at targets moving from left to right. But he goes way beyond that. While concluding that Oswald could indeed have made the shots, Ayoob does so in part because of speculation Oswald was a left-eye dominant shooter. There is no indication of this anywhere outside Oswald's mother's testimony, moreover, and this testimony was rejected by both Oswald's wife and his brothers. (Apparently, Oswald's mother had confused him with his brother Robert, who was, you guessed it, ding-ding-ding, left-handed.) 
  • In addition, the photo at the top of this page, the only known photo of Oswald firing a rifle while in the Marines, shows him to be shooting right-handed while aiming with his right eye. This makes little sense if he was left-eye dominant. (Information found online suggests both that the Marines keep an "eye" out for left-eye dominant shooters and that they train them to shoot left-handed when discovered.) As a result, Ayoob's speculation falls flat. 
  • Oswald's purported use of his scope only magnifies this problem. The Rifle Book, a 1950 Guide to rifles by Jack O'Connor, notes that "a 4-X scope will annoy the poor shot because his natural wobbles are magnified." It then proceeds to explain that 4-x scopes with a 30 foot field of view at 100 yards have been found to be "adequate" by hunters, and that hunters of anything bigger and more mobile than a prairie dog are likely to find inadequate a scope with greater magnification or a smaller field of view. The scope on the assassination rifle, it should be noted, had but an 18 foot field of view at 100 yards, and was presumably a scope designed for target shooting and small game hunting. 
  • Guns of the Elite, a 1987 book on snipers and sniper weapons, explains: "optical sights suffer certain inherent problems. Not only are they complicated--and often too delicate to withstand the rigours of military service--but magnification of the target means that the firer's eyes see different images if both eyes remain open during the shooting. Thus, though the sights improve deliberate shooting, they can hinder target location and (particularly) engagement of moving targets." This book then notes that some armies have learned to account for this problem by using 1.5 power scopes on their sniper rifles, which permit "a wider field of view" than 4 power scopes. The scope on the assassination rifle was a 4 power scope. If Oswald was using this scope, with its limited field of view, it seems highly unlikely he could have accurately established a "point lead" on a target coming from below and to his left. If he missed this first shot, furthermore, it seems unlikely he could have adjusted rapidly enough to track the target through a tree and fire two accurate shots, the first one within a second of the target coming out from behind the tree, and the second less than 5 seconds later. 
  • This last point is supported by the Army's tests of Oswald's rifle in March, 1964. The three Master rifleman chosen to test the rifle, after being allowed as much time as needed for the first shot, missed the second shot 4 of 6 times, even though they were aiming at a stationary target, and their target was approximately 3 times as large as the approximately 7 inch circle within which Oswald had purportedly placed two shots. The sudden switch from waiting to turning and rapid-firing at a target was apparently a difficult one, made even more difficult by the use of a scope.
  • Intriguingly, the HSCA came to agree that Oswald's use of the scope was unlikely. Their Firearms Panel concluded "that an individual could attain better accuracy using the iron sights than the scope under the circumstances involved in Dealey Plaza." In his testimony, the panel's spokesman, Monty Lutz, explained why. First he questioned the accuracy of the scope. He claimed "The accuracy is fairly undependable, as far as once getting the rifle sighted in, and it is very cheaply made. The scope itself has a crosshair reticle that is subject to movement or being capable of being dislodged from dropping, from impact, or a very sharp recoil. So the accuracy would be somewhat questionable for this particular type of a scope." Then he questioned if the scope would be of help even under optimal conditions. He explained: "This scope, I will apply the principle to it. We are dealing with a four-power or a magnification of 4. The field of view is 18, meaning an 18-foot circle at 100 yards. So it is a 4 x 18 scope, a relatively small circle to locate your target in when you are firing and recovering from the recoil in successive shots. So to align your target to get a sighting position, by placing the stock into the shoulder, the head has to be adjusted or moved slightly to the left to align the way that the scope is mounted on the left-hand side and get into position to fire. The scope itself is also designed so that the crosshair, the reticles, do not remain in the exact center position. When you adjust windage or elevation those crosshairs move, so that you are not looking dead center in the object itself. A more natural and easier form or position to fire is to put the rifle against the shoulder, the cheek on the stock, and look right down the center, straight ahead from where you are now positioned, and align the iron sights, the fixed iron sights that are presently on the rifle." He then testified that, for him, using the iron sights would be "considerably easier" than using the scope. None of his colleagues on the panel disagreed.
  • While the panel's conclusion was no doubt influenced by the fact they'd found the rifle could also be fired more rapidly when using the iron sights, and the HSCA was anxious to conclude the rifle had been fired more rapidly than previously believed possible, there were almost certainly other factors influencing their decision. Perhaps one of these factors was that, as acknowledged in the 1969 testimony of the FBI's Robert Frazier--the first man to test the weapon--one had to lift one's eye away from the scope between shots in order "To prevent the bolt of the rifle from striking (one) in the face as it came to the rear."Perhaps another of these factors was that, when first tested by Frazier on 11-27-1963, the rifle, when fired using the scope, fired 4 inches high and one to the right at only 15 yards. Assuming this was the condition of the rifle as found in the depository, this meant that the sniper, in order to lead the President and hit him in the head while he was moving away and to the right, would have to have fired behind the President, and aimed for low on his back, or perhaps even at the trunk of his limousine. This would have been quite a trick. Perhaps the HSCA Firearms Panel, unlike the Warren Commission, which concluded that the use of the apparently misaligned scope had been a "substantial aid" in the shooting, saw the unlikelihood of Oswald pulling off such a trick. Unfortunately for them, however, the only man known to rapid fire the assassination rifle while using the iron sights, a Mr. Miller, the best shooter in the Army's 1964 tests, only attempted one run using these sights... On this run, Mr. Miller not only missed the head and neck silhouette of his third and final target, he missed the target completely.  
  • A not so quick aside...While some assume the rifle and scope were in alignment on 11-22-63, only to get misaligned in the aftermath of the shooting, there is little real support for this assumption. While Sebastian Latona, the FBI's fingerprint expert, testified before the Warren Commission that the rifle had been dismantled by the FBI's ballistics examiners and inspected for prints prior to the FBI's initial test of the rifle's accuracy, he did not mention the removal of the scope. When the FBI's chief ballistics examiner Robert Frazier testified just a few days prior to Latona, moreover, he indicated he'd been present when the rifle arrived at the laboratory, and also failed to mention that the scope had been removed. (While Frazier testified that "apparently the scope had even been taken off of the rifle, in searching for fingerprints on the rifle. So that actually the way it was sighted-in when we got it does not necessarily mean it was sighted-in that way when it was abandoned" this was just speculation--and unwarranted speculation at that--seeing as this very point was addressed and refuted by Dallas crime scene investigator, J.C. Day, in his statements and testimony.) In any event, Frazier then let on that he had reason to suspect the scope had not been removed in Dallas; he testified that, upon further examination of the rifle in March 1964, he found that the scope took 5 or 6 shots to stabilize after each adjustment, and that "When we fired on November 27th, the shots were landing high and slightly to the right. However, the scope was apparently fairly well stabilized at that time, because three shots would land in an area the size of a dime under rapid-fire conditions, which would not have occurred if the interior mechanism of the scope was shifting." If the scope was stabilized on 11-27, as claimed, and neither the Dallas Police nor FBI had before that time adjusted the scope and fired the rifle 5 or 6 times to stabilize the scope, as Frazier found was necessary, it follows then that the scope had not recently been removed, replaced, and re-adjusted before 11-27, and that the inaccuracies of the rifle on 11-27 were the inaccuracies on 11-22. (Frazier would later confirm that his suggestion the scope had been removed in Dallas was just speculation--and unwarranted speculation at that--by telling writer David Fisher that the Dallas Police had lost a wooden shim that had been placed beneath the scope to bring it into alignment. He, of course, offered no evidence that this shim had ever existed, let alone that the DPD had lost it after removing the scope. Apparently, he'd just made it up--to explain just how it was that a rifle he knew to be inaccurate had been fired with such accuracy.)
  • Even if the scope had been removed and haphazardly screwed back on, however, as some presume, it does nothing to suggest the rifle had been accurate on 11-22. All indications are, in fact, that it was not. In March 1964, after Frazier's discovery of the scope's instability, the FBI tried to sight-in the rifle and bring the scope and rifle into alignment. They found, however, that this was impossible, and that the rifle still fired an average of over 4 inches high and 2 1/2 inches to the right at 100 yards when using the scope, even after it had been stabilized. While some, apparently including the FBI and Warren Commission, have chosen to assume this misalignment was the misalignment of the rifle on 11-22, and would have worked to Oswald's advantage, they miss entirely that having the rifle fire high and to the right at a distant target moving up and to the right in the scope would only have been an advantage if Oswald knew exactly how misaligned his scope was--and that he only could have known this had he had extensive practice with his rifle...extensive practice for which the FBI and Warren Commission found no evidence... 
  • In any event, when, subsequent to the FBI, the Army tested the rifle, they found it necessary to add shims beneath the scope mount to bring it into alignment. This was acknowledged in the 3-31-64 testimony of Ronald Simmons, Chief of the Infantry Weapons Evaluation Branch of the Ballistics Research Laboratory of the Department of the Army. The gunsmith who'd worked on the rifle made an interesting observation, moreover, which he passed on to Warren Commission counsel Melvin Eisenberg on April 6, 1964. Eisenberg's Memo for the Record on this conversation was published in the commission's volumes as CE 2560. It reads "There were three pieces in the scope examined by the BRL gunsmith. Two pieces were .015 inches thick, so placed as to elevate the scope with respect to the gun. One piece was .020 inches thick so placed as to point the scope leftward with respect to the gun. The gunsmith observed that the scope as we received it was installed as if for a left-handed man." Well, this is fairly confusing, as it suggests the shims were already on the rifle when received by the BRL, when Simmons testified to the opposite. We can only assume, then, that Eisenberg's words are misleading, and that he should have written "three pieces in the scope added in by the BRL gunsmith," and not "examined by the gunsmith." In any event, the gunsmith's observation that "the scope as we received it was installed as if for a left-handed man" feeds back into the sniper data book's observation that right-eye dominant shooters have trouble with targets moving left to right, and Ayoob's observation that the best shooters during the re-enactment he'd witnessed had both been left-handed, and presumably left-eye dominant. Was the sniper in the sniper's nest a left-eye dominant shooter firing right-handed to simulate Oswald? Hmmm... 
  • In 1969, Dr. John Lattimer gave a presentation to the New York Academy of Medicine on his own attempts to replicate Oswald's supposed feat. While claiming his tests showed that Oswald could have performed the shooting, he made some interesting observations that failed to support this conclusion. After discussing his acquisition of four rifles like Oswald's, fitting them with scopes like the one found on Oswald's rifle, and picking out the rifle which most closely resembled its overall condition, he admitted: "To align the sight perfectly, it was necessary to place thin metal wafers (shims) under the front ring of the mount of the telescope, just as had been found necessary with Oswald's rifle, in order to correct the faulty alignment of the telescope." This point, moreover, was confirmed by writer Stephen Hunter in his 2013 book The Third Bullet. In an appendix to his novel in which an alternate scenario to the shooting was presented, Hunter claimed he'd bought a rifle like the one used in the shooting, and scope like the one found on the rifle, and discovered they were hopelessly out of alignment without the addition of shims. So yeah, it's true. The shims added to Oswald's rifle were added after it was found in the depository, not before. This suggests, then, that on the day of the shooting Oswald's rifle was inaccurate, at least when using the scope, and that this was an inherent defect of that rifle and scope combination, not a problem created afterward as presumed by so many for so long.
  • Lattimer continued: "It was found that with the sling binding the rifle tightly to the experimenter's arm, and by resting both forearms flat against the legs, above the knees (as was possible from Oswald's high perch), three cartridges could be worked through the action in six or seven seconds, still allowing a short period for aiming, before each simulated shot. If the interval between each shot was increased to five seconds (10 seconds total) aiming became quite easy."Lattimer failed to explain that he was firing at stationary targets, and that tracking or leading a moving target would be more difficult, and take more time. But I digress...
  • Lattimer then wrote something quite interesting. He noted: "It was found necessary not only to push the bolt vigorously forward but to pull it vigorously back, each time, with more force than is usually required with bolt-action rifles. Facility with these motions was acquired with many, many workings of the action over a period of two weeks of both simulated and actual firing. It became obvious to us that the ability to fire this rapidly and dexterously required a prolonged period of practice." Lattimer then proceeded to speculate that Oswald's failed attempt on General Walker "might have persuaded him to sharpen his skill at rapid fire (as he did all too well) by further practice, before November 22..."  Well, I'll be. Lattimer's belief Oswald fired the shots is related to his belief Oswald had extensive practice with his rifle...something both the FBI and Warren Commission specifically ruled out! 
  • Lattimer then drove this point home: "The prolonged period of practice and familiarization was found to be essential for the achievement of any kind of accuracy during rapid firing of this rifle. In general, we were surprised and interested to observe how effectively proficiency with this rifle could be acquired, if plenty of time was allowed." Well this suggests as well that a prolonged period of defamiliarization with this rifle would lead to a degeneration of one's skills, does it not? The Warren Commission found no evidence that Oswald had even touched, let alone fired, his rifle for at least six weeks prior to the shooting. They found no evidence he'd ever used it to fire on a moving target. They found no cleaning equipment or spare ammunition among his possessions. 
  • This last point should not be over-looked, moreover. The following quote comes from The Bluejackets Manual--the previously mentioned guide provided members of the U.S. Navy that describes the proper care of the 1903A1, the American equivalent to the bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle purportedly used in the assassination. Here it goes: "The rifle is a weapon of precision and demands proper care and cleaning. A lack of care soon ruins its accuracy. After a day's shooting, the bore demands special attention. as the residuum from smokeless powder soon corrodes it and should be removed as soon as practicable..." The manual then proceeds to describe three different kinds of fouling that can be found in a barrel, and the tools required to properly clean the rifle, i.e. a cleaning rod, a piece of cloth, an oiled rag, and a dry rag. Although Oswald is purported to have fired his rifle on at least one occasion in the months leading up to the assassination, none of these items were found among his possessions. 
  • This should make us suspect then, that, if one man fired all the shots on Kennedy, he was 1) a much better shot than Oswald was presumed to have been in 1963, 2) someone who had been practicing with Oswald's rifle prior to 11-22-63, and 3) someone who kept his cleaning supplies in a place not known to have been frequented by Oswald. 
  • That the shooter had skills far superior to those presumed for Oswald has received support from surprising sources, moreover. On August 27, 1972, Governor John Connally, at that time a former Secretary of the Navy and a soon-to-be Secretary of the Treasury, was asked about the possibility of two assassins on the ABC news program Issues and Answers. He replied: "if one man did it--and I really think one man did it from all that I know about it--he was an expert at handling that rifle, no question about it, because he got off three shots in a remarkably short period of time."
  • Having established that prominent members of the Oswald-did-it crowd believed Oswald must have been an expert with his rifle to pull off the shooting attributed to him, we can now turn to the observations of the person most familiar with Oswald's shooting capabilities, his older brother, fellow Marine, and frequent shooting partner, Robert. In 1967, Robert Oswald published Lee, a book on his brother, in which he confirmed his belief in his brother's guilt. But he included a proviso. He wrote: "Someone who is accustomed to using rifles without scopes does not find it easy to adjust to the use of a scope. Riflemen making the change often fail to allow for the recoil...That is why I find it hard to understand the Commission's refusal to take seriously the testimony of the witnesses" who said they saw Oswald practice-firing his rifle at a number of ranges around Dallas. He then proclaimed "If Lee did not spend a considerable amount of time practicing with that rifle in the weeks and months before the assassination, then I would say that Lee did not fire the shots that killed the President and wounded Governor Connally." And this wasn't a momentary flight of fancy. In the pages that followed, Robert offered: "I believe I know more about Lee's ability as a rifleman than anyone else, since I did have a chance to observe him over a number of years, from the moment he first learned to handle a rifle." He doubled-down: "Without considerable amount of practice with that weapon, I do not understand how Lee could have fired it with an accuracy that some of the best riflemen in the United States found difficult to match..."

So...single-assassin theorists supporting the LPM scenario (the currently popular scenario in which shots were fired at or just before frames 160, 224, and 313 of the Zapruder film) have a choice. First, to be true to Lattimer, Connally, and Oswald's brother, they must agree that the Warren Commission was wrong and hold that Oswald had somehow acquired extensive practice with his rifle. Second, to be true to the accumulated literature on sniping they should either 1) assert Oswald used a gun rest and a scope, and missed anyhow, and then propose he successfully fired the next two shots while using the iron sights, or 2) take a cue from the HSCA and admit the use of a scope would only complicate his shots, and assert that he tracked the limo using the iron sights for all three shots. In any alternative, they should admit that the photos of Kennedy's stand-in taken through a 4 power scope from the sniper's nest at the moment of the head shot are deceptive, and most probably not representative of what was actually seen by the sniper.

That they continue to use this photo to push that the shots were easy and that Oswald used a scope indicates that they either have far greater faith in Oswald's ability and/or luck than warranted or far less respect for the truth than desired.

Of course, those claiming Oswald performed the shooting without using the scope are no better...

Not to be Outdone...

The Warren Commission, as we have seen, concluded that the shooting was not all that difficult for someone of Oswald's shooting ability. As ridiculous as this was, however, it was destined to be topped by the conclusions of a subsequent government body regarding the difficulty of the shooting, and Oswald's ability.

By the close of its existence, at the end of 1978, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had come to accept that the assassination of President Kennedy had been recorded on a dictabelt recording created when a police motorcycle microphone jammed in the open position. They'd been told, moreover, that this recording captured shots from the sniper's nest circa frames 160, 190, and 313 of the Zapruder film, and a shot from the grassy knoll circa frame 295. Well, for this to be true, the sniper's nest shooter--Oswald--would have to have gotten off two shots in about 1.7 seconds--when the FBI had concluded long before that it would have taken 2.3 seconds to re-load, aim, and fire the rifle. So how did the HSCA get around this? Well, on March 21, 1979, months after the committee had seized to exist as a committee, its two top counsel, Robert Blakey and Gary Cornwell, performed some tests to make sure that the rifle could, in fact, be fired in the time allotted. 

Blakey's memorandum on these tests is included in Vol. 8 of the Committee's report. It's remarkable in a number of ways. For one, it admits that the rifle purportedly used in the assassination had deteriorated by 1979 and was not used in the tests. For two, it admits that the tests were performed by four expert marksmen on a rifle similar to the one purportedly used in the shooting, and that each was allowed to practice with the bolt for several minutes before firing. Now, Oswald, as we've seen, was not an expert marksmen, and was not believed to have practiced with the bolt for several minutes before firing. But wait, it gets worse. These four experts were allowed two series of three shots each, using only the iron sights, thereby bypassing the problematic scope the Warren Commission would come to claim was the key to Oswald's success in the shooting. The memorandum then records the results of these tests, er rather, the highlights of these tests. One shooter, Officer Masson, hit the body on the first two shots and narrowly missed the head with the third. It took him 2 seconds to fire the first two shots, and slightly less than 5 seconds to fire all three. Well, this was not bad, but was this really the best series of the eight attempted by these experts? Yep. By a country mile. The memo then offers that two shooters, Smith and Masson, were able to fire two shots within 1.9 seconds, and that ONE of their three shots--clearly not the rushed shot--scored a "kill," which, unbelievably, is defined as ANY shot hitting the silhouette of a body from the waist to the top of the head. Well, these three highlights--the other five attempts to replicate Oswald's purported shooting must have been totally embarrassing for these three to have been the highlights--leads Blakey to conclude that "it is apparently difficult--but not impossible--at least with only minimal practice with the firearm used--to fire three shots, at least two of which are 'kills,' with an elapsed time of 1.7 seconds or less between any two shots." 

Well, it's difficult, but not impossible, to do many things people are not likely to do, or to have done. If you see someone walking down the other side of the street, it's possible they got there by doing a cartwheel over a moving car. But is it likely for them to have performed a cartwheel over a moving car? In any event, Blakey then acknowledges that he has come to conclude that Oswald was capable of performing the shooting as proposed "even though, in the limited testing conducted, no shooter achieved this degree of proficiency." Well, geez, the fastest any of these experts was able to fire the rifle--which was not the actual rifle, and which was presumably in better condition than the actual rifle--while using the iron sights and disregarding the time-consuming scope, was once every 1.9 seconds. So where does Blakey get off just assuming Oswald could do it in 1.7 seconds? Because...now this is key, so pay attention...he, Robert Blakey, and his assistant, Gary Cornwell, picked up the rifle after the experts had failed to fire the shots as fast as was deemed necessary, practiced with the bolt for a couple of minutes, and then fired the rifle as fast as they possibly could--and were able to do so in 1.5 and 1.2 seconds, respectively. That's it. They'd shown that the rifle could be fired faster than once every 1.7 seconds. Of course, they did this WITHOUT ACTUALLY AIMING the rifle. (They pointed the rifle in the general direction of the target, fired...and missed every time). Well, this was just ridiculous. Fabulously ridiculous. Keep in mind that the HSCA--at Blakey's urging--had already concluded that the first of Oswald's shots--the one for which he'd had the most time to aim and fire--had missed Kennedy, Connally, everything... And now absorb that he turned around and told them that Oswald had hit Kennedy and Connally with the second shot while just pointing the rifle in Kennedy's general direction. 

Yeah... You can't make this stuff up... Nor should you want to...


Thoughts on the Shots (Continued) 

  • In 2013, I received an e-mail suggesting Lattimer, Connally (and myself) were far from alone in our (separately-reached) conclusions the sniper would have to have been well-practiced with the assassination rifle to perform the shooting claimed of it. A gentleman named Steve Schlah reported that in 1979 he was working as a "manager of the Jobs for Veterans Program of the National Alliance of Business, for the Tri-Counties of Central Coast of California." He then told me that "Each year, the 50 Managers (each from a different city or region across the U.S.) would meet twice in D.C. and once in a host city. In 1979, we 50 Vietnam Vets of various military branches met in the host city of Dallas Texas. After the various meetings, we ALL wanted to go to Dealey Plaza, to the site of the assassination and all 50 made the pilgrimage. It was there that all 50 came to the instant conclusion that none of us, whether having qualified as Marksman or Expert, could have fired that Italian Mannlicker-Carcano 91-38 6.5 mm Bolt Action rifle 3 times in 6 seconds (note: he originally said 4 seconds but then corrected himself in a subsequent email)with any repeated accuracy, over the distance from the Book Depository to the moving target of the Presidential Continental. All 50 came to the same conclusion, that it was not humanly possible, without a dissenting vote." 
  • Curiously, Massad Ayoob touched on this same point in his 1993 article when he wrote "There is reason to believe that Oswald in 1963 had become a far better shot than he was when he only made sharpshooter in the Marines." Apparently, Ayoob's "reason" (or lack thereof) was that he believes Oswald fired the shots, so he must have been able to fire the shots, which means he must have been a better shot than he was when he qualified as a sharpshooter, because a mere sharpshooter would not have been accomplished enough to have fired these shots... This totally neglects that Oswald, when last tested by the Marines in 1959, had suffered a noticeable decline in his skills and had barely qualified as a marksman, far below the level of sharpshooter he'd reached in 1956. This neglects as well that in the intervening years, 1959-1963, Oswald had scarcely fired any weapon, let alone the assassination weapon, a bolt-action rifle far more difficult to operate than the semi-automatic rifle he'd fired while in the Marines.
  • In 1994, former sniper Craig Roberts released his book Kill Zone: A Sniper Looks At Dealey Plaza. In the book, he not only expressed doubt that a right handed shooter could fire effectively from the crowded corner window of the depository, and hit a target just as it emerged from behind a tree, he recounted a discussion he had with legendary Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock. Hatchcock reportedly told him "Let me tell you what we did at Quantico. We reconstructed the whole thing: the angle, the range, the moving target, the time limit, the obstacles, everything. I don't know how many times we tried it, but we couldn't duplicate what the Warren Commission said Oswald did."
  • That the sniper shooting at Kennedy, should it have been but one sniper shooting at Kennedy, had a significant set of skills has been confirmed, moreover, in more recent years. In 2003 a Discovery Channel program entitled “The JFK Conspiracy Myths” attempted to show that Oswald had enough time to perform the shooting by having a sharpshooter on a scaffold shoot at watermelons riding in a remote-controlled limousine. That the sharp shooter hired by the program, Michael Yardley, was able to hit a moving target 3 times in 7.87 seconds (longer than the Warren Commission's favored scenario) was supposed to prove that Oswald, who hadn’t fired his rifle in months, if ever, and who had never been trained in shooting at a moving target from an elevated perch, would have been able to accomplish a similar feat. While the program mentioned that Yardley fired six other sets of three shots, and that four of these proved successful, with the other two marred by equipment failure (the rifle jammed 5 times in 21 tries), they failed to mention the timing of these other sets. This leads one to suspect the other sets took longer than the already too long 7.87 seconds quoted in the program. Even worse, when it came time to test the accuracy of Yardley’s shooting, they provided him with a rifle hooked up to a laser switch, which he then aimed at a pretend Kennedy, as the limo crossed the plaza at night. As a laser beam travels at the speed of light, making it dramatically easier to hit a moving target, and as a laser beam suffers no bullet drop or wind resistance, and as a laser rifle offers no recoil, making it easier to shoot and re-aim, this was akin to playing with a stacked deck. 
  • As if the clear but unacknowledged point made by the program--that Oswald's shooting Kennedy all by his lonesome was possible, but not likely--needed any clarification, its sharpshooter Michael Yardley wrote a short article on his experience entitled "Who Shot John F. Kennedy? It was me"that was published in his native England. While claiming he believed Oswald had indeed "fired three shots from the depository," Yardley nevertheless expressed serious doubts that these were the shots striking Kennedy, as he also claimed the head shot, "if taken from the Grassy Knoll, Badgeman or Walkway positions (all positions forward of the presidential vehicle) would have been much easier" and that "practical experience of the second gunman positions leads me to suspect that there could well have been another shooter." He then closed his article with "Of what can one be certain? That Oswald was a patsy." Of course, none of this was mentioned in the program. 
  • And Yardley is not the last expert to voice his concerns about the difficulty of Oswald's purported feat. In 2013, Matthew Melton, a former Navy Seal sniper and CIA contractor, was hired to replicate Oswald's purported feat for the History Channel program JFK: The Definitive Guide. The producers asked him to rapid fire a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from a six-story tower to see if he could accomplish two hits in 5.6 seconds, as purported by the Warren Commission. Melton accomplished three hits in 5.53 seconds. Mission accomplished. Only not so fast. He was firing at a stationary target, 88 yards away. While admitting that their test "proved that the rifle definitely had the ability" to perform the shots proposed by the Warren Commission, moreover, Melton voiced his disagreement that the test suggested Oswald was the shooter. To Professor Tom Stone's suggestion that "common sense" indicated Oswald was the shooter, Melton interjected "I would totally disagree. So the rifle can make the shots." He then explained that shooting on a range and shooting at an actual person are two different things and that "You're gonna be scared. You're gonna have an Adrenalin rush. You're gonna have a lot of outside pieces that have to be considered when it comes to shooting." Ayoob, Hathcock, Yardley, and Melton's comments, then, should lead us to suspect that Oswald was not the super shooter necessitated by Lattimer's observations, and that more than one shooter fired the shots on the motorcade.
  • Should one accept the shooting scenario preferred by most single-assassin theorists--that the shots were fired just before frames 160, 224 and 313 of the Zapruder film--moreover, one should acknowledge that this gives us even more reason to doubt Oswald was the sole shooter. As demonstrated by Secret Service agent John Joe Howlett in the DVD to the National Geographic program JFK: The Lost Bullet (2011), and acknowledged by single-assassin theorists Dale Myers and Todd Vaughan in their article Mr. Holland's Opus, it would have been impossible for Oswald to have fired down upon the limousine at frame 160 or before from the crouched position presumably used to fire the last two shots. This means that he would have to have fired the first shot from a standing position before crouching down to fire the last two shots. This is not something Oswald was ever taught in the Marines. This movement between shots, moreover, is not something any live-fire reenactment of the shooting has ever dared to simulate. Here, see for yourself...

  • This problem was given a lone-nut spin, moreover, in a November 2018 article by Nicholas Nalli in the Journal of the Association of Crime Scene Reconstruction. There, Nalli argued that the alignment of the boxes proved that the sniper planned on beginning his assault as the limo drove out beyond the tree, and that the first shot miss (he wrongly believes was fired) before the limo even reached the tree was both "impulsive and unplanned" and "the most difficult of the three" shots attempted. He then argued that the sniper had more success once he crouched and used the boxes as a rifle rest. He ignored, of course, that the professional marksmen firing on stationary targets for the Warren Commission had far more trouble with the second and third shots than with the first, and that this increase in difficulty would have been magnified by their having to crouch down between shots and rest their rifle on a box. 
  • The 1994 book Sniper, by military historian Adrian Gilbert, gives us even more food for thought. While reporting on many of the tactics previously discussed, Gilbert addresses something new as well. He reports: "Fighting in built-up areas offers good concealment and cover...Dummy positions are frequently used to draw enemy fire away from the sniper's position. The short ranges over which most combat in towns and cities is fought tends to negate the sniper's range advantage. The sniper can overcome this, however, by the application of his superior knowledge of fieldcraft and, where possible, by firing from positions to the rear of the...combat zone...When firing out of a window, he should stand well back in the room, muffling the blast and hiding the muzzle blast...Windows and doorways are obvious firing positions; it may be better if the sniper cuts a funnel-shaped hole through the wall. A hole of this nature is hard for the enemy to locate and hit, while giving the sniper a reasonable field of fire." Now, this is pretty interesting. This suggests two previously unexplored possibilities. First, that the so-called grassy knoll, where most ran after shots were fired at the motorcade, was a "dummy" position. And second, that a second sniper beyond the one seen in the depository building was totally concealed from view in one of the buildings at Houston and Elm. 
  • Now, no dummies were found on the grassy knoll. But that's not the only way to create a "dummy" position. The August 27, 1942 issue of Tactical and Technical Trends, a publication of the U.S. War Department, in an article on Japanese Tactics in the Philippines, described the use of firecrackers to "confuse U.S. troops as to the actual Japanese position." More to the point, Combat Lessons #4, a 1942 publication of the U.S. Army, noted that German snipers, in order to confuse those under fire, used firecrackers with slow-burning fuses. Similarly, Combat Lessons #6, from 1944, noted that, in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II, "enemy troops have used firecrackers for diversionary purposes, especially when trying to deceive our troops as to the positions of snipers." 

Hmmm... Beyond that many witnesses thought they heard shots from the knoll, a number of witnesses saw smoke or smelled smoke in the area. Was this smoke the smoke of a firecracker? Used for diversionary purposes? By someone trained in military tactics? 


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