What we're not supposed to know
The Paraffin Tests
Let's now look at the central question of whether Oswald fired a rifle on 11-22-1963. This discussion centers largely around the paraffin tests performed on Oswald's hands and cheek. A paraffin test, to explain, is a test where a suspect’s hands are coated in paraffin. This creates a cast. The cast is then tested for the presence of nitrates. The presence of nitrates can be taken as an indication the suspect handled or fired a weapon. A similar test performed on a cheek could indicate the suspect fired a rifle. According to the standard text Scientific Evidence in Criminal Cases these tests were first performed in the 1930’s and were performed almost routinely in the 1950’s. By 1963, however, they were beginning to fall in disfavor.
At approximately 8:55 PM CST on 11-22-63--a bit more than 8 hours after President Kennedy had been slain on a Dallas street--Dallas crime lab detective W. E. Barnes coats Oswald's hands and cheek with paraffin. He then cuts the casts off for testing. Although studies have suggested that gunshot residue tests should be performed within six hours of a shooting, that Oswald has been in police custody all but 1 1/4 hours of the time since the shooting, and has been prevented from washing his hands or his face, and is suspected of firing his rifle 3 times and his pistol 5 times, gives us reason to believe these tests will prove helpful.
a subsequent study by Vincent Guinn will come to demonstrate that,
under laboratory conditions, gunshot residue can be found on suspects
as long as 24 hours after a shooting. A similar study by S.S. Krishnan
published in 1974 will go further and claim "residue can remain for up
to 17h during normal activity, but can be quickly removed by vigorous
scrubbing with soap and water." A subsequent study by Krishnan
published in 1977 would support this further by listing a homicide
where gunshot residue was found on the hands of a suspect 24 hours
after the shooting. While Oswald's odyssey after the shooting was far
from what one would expect to find in a laboratory, it was also far
less taxing than 17h of normal activity. As a consequence there is
nothing in his saga to make one think the residue on his hands, face,
and clothes that would be apparent should he have fired a rifle, would
have vanished. From May 31 to June 3, 2005, the FBI crime lab held a symposium on gunshot residue analysis. One of the issues discussed was time limits, a time after which the various crime labs present at the symposium would refuse to conduct a test for gunshot residue. According to a summary of this symposium, found on the FBI's website, "Many participants
stated that an acceptable cutoff time is 4 to 6 hours after the
shooting event, whereas some felt that up to 8 hours was appropriate.
Still others were comfortable accepting lifts taken more than 12
hours after the shooting." It was also noted that the FBI's cut-off was 5 hours. A 2006 article on Scienceevidence.com similarly notes
that in Saunders v the State of Texas, Aug. 12 2006, "The State’s
expert...testified that the time
guideline for gunshot residue tests is four hours because of the
diminished likelihood of finding the elements necessary for a positive
result. The expert testified that it was possible, however, for the
test to produce a positive finding even after six or eight hours, but
such findings are described as inconclusive. They are not referred to
as 'unreliable,' however, because the problem is the likelihood of the
evidence disappearing, not the presence of a false positive." This
suggests that, by today's standards, the test on Oswald was performed too late to
be considered conclusive, but that a positive result would nevertheless suggest his guilt.)
The next morning, on 11-23-63, Dr. M.S Mason and Louie Anderson analyze the paraffin casts of Oswald’s cheek (Exhibit #1), left hand (Exhibit #2), and right hand (Exhibit #3) created by Detective Barnes. The request form for this test, found in the Dallas Archives, records the time of the request as 11:05 A.M. The results read as follows: “No nitrates are found on Exhibit #1. Nitrate patterns consistent with the suspect having discharged a firearm were present on Exhibits #2 and 3. The pattern on Exhibit #3 is typical of the patterns produced in firing a revolver.” As Oswald is reported to have handled his revolver in the movie theater these results do little to establish that he’d fired a rifle at the President. More clearly, the positive result on Oswald's hands suggests that the elapsed time since the shooting was not the cause of the negative result on Oswald's cheek, and that one might reasonably suspect he did not fire the shots that killed the President. But does the Dallas Police Department admit to itself or the media that there may be suspects still at large?
Shortly thereafter, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry is asked about the tests. He responds, on camera, “I understand that it was
positive." When asked what that means, he explains "It only means that he fired a gun.” When asked by a reporter if there
were powder marks on Oswald’s cheek, he replies “I don’t know that. I don’t know that.” A cigarette-chomping reporter then asks "That a gun was fired, Chief, not the rifle, or a pistol?" to which Curry responds "That's right." The reporter then says aloud, for his fellow reporters to hear, “We
just say a gun.”
Within an hour, Frank McGee of NBC News reports
“Oswald still insists he did not kill the president. The paraffin tests proved positive—Oswald did
fire a gun during the last twenty-four hours.” The juxtaposition of these
statements undoubtedly confuses many into thinking that the paraffin
tests proved Oswald had fired a rifle.
A UPI article published
shortly thereafter tells millions of readers “Pro-Communist Lee Harvey Oswald
was charged today with the assassination of President Kennedy. Police said paraffin results on both of
Oswald’s hands were 'positive.'" This article similarly suggests the paraffin tests proved Oswald had fired a rifle.
And from there what was merely misleading information turns into misinformation... In a 1:07 PM recap of the evidence, McGee now tells his viewers "Paraffin tests of the side of Oswald's face proved that he had indeed fired a rifle." At 2:07 PM
his colleague Bill Ryan adds to the confusion: "Tests showed that
Oswald had gunpowder traces on both his hands, indicating that he did
use a rifle."
And amazingly, this end-run around Curry's words becomes the accepted story... Despite the fact that, after first interviewing Curry that morning, CBS' man in Dallas Nelson Benton had repeated Curry's words and explained that the paraffin tests did not prove Oswald fired a rifle, CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, in an afternoon broadcast, jumps on NBC's bandwagon, and actually outdoes them; Cronkite tells his viewers:"Paraffin tests taken on his hands indicate he did fire a rifle, as well as a revolver."
Meanwhile, the FBI joins the circus. An 11-23-63 memo from Assistant Director Alex Rosen--heading the FBI's investigation of the shooting--to Assistant Director Alan Belmont, his superior, reads: "At 1:25 PM this date, Assistant SAC Kyle Clark, Dallas, advised just received word of the paraffin test...The results show Punctate traces of nitrate found on the left and right hands consistent with that of a person who had handled or fired a firearm. The paraffin of right cheek showed no traces of nitrate...Clark advised that he now understood that the actual results of the paraffin were between 12 and 1 AM this morning, but were not taken to the Criminal Investigative Laboratory until 10:45 AM this morning." Now, this is a bit strange. Why did the DPD wait so long to tell the FBI the test results? And why did Agent Clark think they'd applied the paraffin after midnight, as opposed to hours before?
Elsewhere, Dr. Vincent Guinn,
Technical Director of the Activation Analysis Program of General Atomic
Division of General Dynamics Corporation, calls the FBI Laboratory and
offers his assistance in studying the paraffin casts. Guinn believes
that neutron activation analysis, if performed on the casts, will
better determine if there was gunshot residue on Oswald's hand and
cheek than the tests performed in Dallas. He is thanked for his spirit
of cooperation, but is never called.
And he's not the only one being rebuffed. Later this evening the Special Agent in Charge of the Houston FBI office sends an urgent message to FBI headquarters. He tells them that Dr. Richard Wainerdi of Texas A & M has spoken to Dr. Paul Aebersold, an employee of the Atomic Energy Commission, and that Aebersold claims neutron activation analysis of Oswald's tee-shirt might help them determine whether or not Oswald had fired a rifle. The memo then notes that the Texas Director of Public Safety, Homer Garrison, has told the Dallas Police of Aebersold's remarks but has been rebuffed by Chief Detective Captain Will Fritz, who's told him the case was wrapped up without this evidence.
The next day, 11-24, The Washington Post, in an article on the evidence against Oswald, echoes NBC's and CBS' bad reporting and asserts that a positive paraffin test on both of Oswald's hands indicates he'd fired a rifle. The L.A. Times on this day, in its rundown of evidence against Oswald, similarly details: "Police reported, however, that paraffin tests had disclosed that both of Oswald's hands had fired a gun. They said it was not likely that both hands would have shown powder marks if Oswald had fired only the 38-caliber snub-nosed revolver which was used to kill Tippit." This, of course, is not true. Finding nitrates on both hands of a suspect has never been considered evidence the suspect had fired a rifle. Instead, the finding of nitrates on both hands suggests either that Oswald had handled his revolver with both hands, or that his hands had been contaminated by an outside source.
An article in the Fort
Worth Star Telegram is even more off base, and misrepresents not just
the conclusions to be reached
from the paraffin tests, but their results. It asserts “A paraffin test
showed positive results on both the hands and cheek of the 24 year-old ex-Marine. This, officers said, showed that the man had fired a gun, probably a rifle.” Later that day, after Oswald has been killed,
Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade tells reporters “I would say without any
doubt (Oswald) was the killer of the President…There’s no doubt in my mind we
would have convicted him. I’ve sent
people to the electric chair on less.” When asked about the paraffin tests, he
says “Yes, I’ve got paraffin tests that showed he had recently fired a gun.” When
asked by an alert reporter if this meant a rifle, he repeats “A gun.”
This last statement indicates he knew full well that there was nothing
about these tests to suggest Oswald had fired a rifle. And yet, the
transcript to this taped press conference (as published by NBC in 1967) indicates
he said just the opposite, and had instead proclaimed "Paraffin tests showed that he
(Oswald) had fired a rifle recently."
If NBC had simply gotten it wrong, repeatedly, they weren't alone. The 11-25 Washington
Post article on Wade's press conference once again runs down the
evidence against Oswald, and reports: "Paraffin tests for gunpowder on
both hands were "positive," indicating he recently had shot a rifle."
Amazingly, on 11-25, the New York Times presents its own list of the evidence against Oswald, and gets it equally wrong. It inaccurately reports that paraffin tests showed “particles of gunpowder from a weapon, probably a rifle, on Oswald’s cheek and hands.” Unlike NBC, and The Washington Post, however, the Times has someone to blame for their mistake. They cite a source for this misinformation; disturbingly, it's J. Gordon Shanklin, Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas FBI.
On 11-26, moreover, with the case now wrapped up (much as Capt. Will Fritz had predicted on the 23rd), the FBI contacts Dr. Paul Aebersold to see if he can really tell if Oswald had fired a rifle simply by performing neutron activation analysis on his tee-shirt, as purported. A hand-written note in the margins of the 11-23 airtel (in which these test were first discussed), however, reports that Aebersold denied claiming such a test would give definitive results, and that he'd claimed instead that such testing was only "possibly helpful." Perhaps as a result, he was never asked to perform these tests.
The NAA Tests on the Paraffin Casts
Apparently, other tests were on his mind. A memo to FBI assistant director William Sullivan reveals that on 11-27, Dr. Glenn Seaborg, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) has advised the FBI that "the AEC has at the present time a very sensitive detection process which might augment the paraffin tests already run on Oswald." The memo goes on to state that the AEC's expert in this field--the field of neutron activation analysis--is Dr. Paul Aebersold. Seaborg even gives them Aebersold's phone number.
Later this day, Roy Jevons, Section Chief of the Physics and Chemistry Department of the FBI laboratory, sends a memo to Ivan Conrad - Assistant to the Director in Charge of the FBI laboratory, and suggests they make arrangements with the AEC to perform the tests proposed by Seaborg, using NAA (neutron activation analysis) on the paraffin casts. While such a test could better establish whether or not there was gunshot residue on Oswald's hands and cheek (the memo asserts that the standard paraffin test is "unreliable") there are limitations to the tests. Jevons writes: "it is noted that the detection of such residues...would not necessarily establish the exact kind of weapon fired by him, the time at which he fired the weapon, or the number of times the weapon was fired. Accordingly, in view of the nonspecific nature of these results and in view of the massive evidence already available indicating Oswald's guilt, it was not felt that this type of examination would contribute essentially to the investigation and trial of Oswald. However, Oswald is now dead and there will be no trial. In view of this development, it is felt that this examination should now receive further consideration in order to protect the Bureau against any possible future allegations, however unfounded, that if neutron activation analyses type of analyses had been conducted, one might have obtained extremely significant data."
Yes, you read that right: the FBI's crime lab had NO plans to perform these tests when they could be used to help Oswald, but, now that he was dead, they thought it a good idea to perform these tests to protect the Bureau. The possibility that Oswald hadn't shot Kennedy, and that performing these tests could have helped them discover his innocence, and have led them to pursue the actual killers, was never even considered. Even more disturbing, the 6 line paragraph in Jevons' memo after the paragraph cited above was redacted in its entirety when released to Harold Weisberg in one of his Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.
(In 2009, I found this memo on the Mary Ferrell website. The paragraph was no longer redacted. It now read: "Such
allegations, for example, might originate from relatively high placed
individuals in the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) charged with
developing neutron activation analyses and who will recognize the
publicity potential of such allegations." (FBI file 62-109060, Sec
5, p140) This proves, as if we ever had any doubt, that the FBI's main
interest in performing these tests was political and to cut off
speculation that they hadn't thoroughly tested the evidence. The
redaction of this paragraph--which had nothing to do with National
Security, and only concealed that the FBI was distrustful of Dr. Aebersold--furthermore, demonstrates the problem inherent with letting
agencies redact their own documents, as they are as likely to redact
items for political reasons as security reasons.)
any event, with Jevons' memo, the FBI springs into action. On 11-27
Special Agent C. Ray Hall retrieves the paraffin casts from Louie
Anderson of the Dallas City Crime Lab, and arranges for their delivery
to FBI Spectrography expert John Gallagher. The memo regarding this
transfer notes that the paraffin casts are now in seven pieces: the
back, palm, and thumb of each hand, and one "thin slab from right
cheek." Another memo on this transfer notes further that paraffin casts
were normally thrown out by the Dallas Police Department after testing,
and that Louie Anderson, who'd analyzed the casts for the DPD, had
washed them and taken them home, apparently as a souvenir.
though the FBI knows more reliable tests are available, and will soon be performed, it continues to trumpet that the paraffin
tests performed in Dallas support that Oswald killed the President. On page 19 of its 12-9 Summary report (written prior to 12-5), it declares:
“Following Oswald’s apprehension on November
22, 1963, Dr. W.F. Mason of Dallas
concluded, after tests, that paraffin casts made of Oswald’s hands contained
traces of nitrate consistent with the residue on the hands of a person who had
recently handled or fired a firearm.” As
the report is on the assassination of President Kennedy, and not on the
shooting of Officer Tippit, the inclusion of this information without
that, 1) per the FBI's own laboratory, these tests are unreliable, and
2) the test on Oswald’s cheek was negative, is undoubtedly misleading
indicative of the FBI’s desire to close the case without really
J.J. O'Connor of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division meets
with the AEC's chairman, Glenn Seaborg, and further discusses the
matter. Seaborg offers the "complete and confidential cooperation" of
his agency. Also on this day, O'Connor and the FBI's Spectrography
expert, John Gallagher, meet with Dr. Spofford G. English, Assistant
General Manager of Research and Development for the AEC. English
advises that Dr. Paul Aebersold, Director of the AEC's Division of
Isotopes Development, has a "propensity for publicity" that "makes him
difficult to control," and that he will not be informed of the tests.
This meeting concludes with the decision to "arrange a conference at
the earliest possible date with operational personnel of the Oak Ridge
On 12-11, Dr. Paul Aebersold of the Atomic Energy Commission writes a letter to Assistant Attorney General Herbert Miller, offering his services. He writes "We would hope soon to have more details on whether the method (neutron activation analyses) will give useful information to distinguish between smoke deposits from revolvers and those from rifles--by means of their distribution on the body of the person firing them and by the levels of antimony and barium (and perhaps other elements) deposited...Should you wish us to be of assistance, our research contractor in the criminalistics work, General Atomic in San Diego, would carry out the measurements--working directly with the appropriate government investigators and with proper safeguards regarding the physical evidence and information. The scientist in charge of this work at General Atomic is Dr. Vincent P. Guinn." As Guinn has already offered his services to the FBI, and been rebuffed, it could very well be that this letter is his attempt to get around that roadblock.
That same day, unknown to Aebersold and probably Guinn, the FBI's O'Connor and Gallagher meet with Dr.s English, Vandarryn, Swarthout of the AEC, along with Mr. William S. Lyon, in charge of Oak Ridge's neutron activation analysis unit. During this meeting it is decided that Oak Ridge will be "adequate to accomplish the necessary activation analysis..." and that "The work can be performed in a relatively isolated laboratory to insure the proper security and control of the data." It is further decided that the AEC will "endeavor to bring Dr. Vincent P. Guinn, who has been in charge of all research efforts in powder residue studies at General Atomic Division of General Dynamics Corporation, to Oak Ridge,Tennessee, to act as a technical consultant on the matter. It is pointed out that the confidential agreement reached with AEC will be binding on Dr. Guinn and will include the few other technicians necessarily involved. Mr. William Lyons will notify the Bureau when consulting arrangements have been finished and the facilities at Oak Ridge are ready for the required analysis."
Attached to the 12-12 Jevons to Conrad memo describing O'Connor's and Gallagher's meeting is a list of 18 tests to be performed at Oak Ridge. Four of these are tests to be performed on the materials used by the Dallas PD (Gulfwax, Cheesecloth, Distilled water, and Diphenylbenzidine) in order to make sure these materials themselves have little barium or antimony. Four more are tests related to the cartridge cases of Oswald's revolver and rifle, to see if the gunshot residue of each weapon is readily identifiable. The other ten are controls. Test 1 is a test of a freshly washed left hand. Test 2 is a test of a previously clean right hand, after it has fired a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver four times. Test 3 is a test of a right hand after firing four times and reloading. Test 4 is a test of a left hand after firing four times with the right hand, and reloading using only the right hand. Test 5 is a test of a right hand after firing four times, and reloading, after which the paraffin cast is washed with distilled water. Test 6 is a test of the left hand after firing four times with the right hand, and reloading, after which the paraffin cast is washed with distilled water. Test 7 is a test of a left cheek before firing a revolver. Test 8 is a test of the "Cast of right cheek after the rifle was fired from the right shoulder (rifle was wiped clean with cheesecloth prior to shooting)." Test 9 is a test of the right hand after firing the rifle. Test 10 is a test of the left hand after firing the rifle.
On 12-12, Special
Agent C. Ray Hall contacts the Dallas crime lab and retrieves the
paraffin and water samples needed to perform the tests outlined in
A letter written on 12-16,
from Defense Department General Counsel John T. McNaughton to Acting
Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, indicates that at least someone
is watching the FBI. McNaughton indicates that Katzenbach has
submitted the FBI's 12-9 report for his inspection, and solicited his
comments. Among McNaughton's numerous criticisms is one bearing
directly on this issue: "There is no reference to a paraffin test on
On 12-17, the FBI's John Gallagher personally delivers the paraffin casts to the AEC's William Lyon, who is in charge of the neutron activation analysis at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Roy Jevons writes his boss Conrad and relates Gallagher's activities.
He also notes that Mr. Lyons "feels that it will not be until early in
January, 1964, that all procedures, consulting work and facilities will
be finalized so that the actual analysis of the casts from Lee Harvey
Oswald can proceed." The reference to "consulting work" is most
certainly a reference to the work to be performed by Dr. Guinn.
On 12-23, Jevons again writes Conrad, this time reporting that Dr. English's office has called Gallagher to tell him about Aebersold's letter to the Justice Department, and that, as a response to this letter, English had informed Aebersold of the preparations already underway. He said further that Dr. Aebersold had been "briefed concerning the confidential nature of the examinations by AEC." At this point, Oswald had been dead and buried and proclaimed Kennedy's killer for nearly a month. From this one might ask, why all the secrecy? If the tests showed that Oswald had fired the rifle were they planning on keeping the results to themselves? Of course not. Consequently, one can only look at this concern for secrecy as a concern that the results will suggest that Oswald had not fired the rifle, and their feeling that such a revelation should be carefully controlled or, more likely, suppressed.
(This, apparently, was the beginning of the end for Aebersold. He wanted to run some tests to help determine who'd killed his President, was repeatedly rebuffed, found out they were running tests without him, and was told to keep his mouth shut. A bit sad. A bit tragic. But not as sad and tragic, one might assume, as the next chapter in his life. A February 5, 1965 Associated Press article found in the L.A. Times reports that Dr. Aebersold, a veteran of the Manhattan Project and "one of the world's leading nuclear physicists," has tried to commit suicide by jumping "90 feet from a bridge into the ice-covered Potomac River." It notes further that Aebersold, still only 54, was on medical leave from his post with the AEC. A May 30, 1967 article in the New York Times brings even sadder news. The now-retired Aebersold has jumped from the top floor of a 17-story apartment building near his home, and was successful in ending his life. His name lives on, however. In 1973 the Society of Nuclear Medicine names its annual award in his honor.)
Now back to '63... A
scratch sheet received by researcher Harold Weisberg from the AEC in
response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 1975 shows that
tests 2, 5, and 6, which test the levels of gunshot residue likely to
be found on Oswald's hands, are performed on 12-26, 12-27, and 12-30.
The insidious nature of the FBI's secrecy comes to light over the next few weeks. On 1-2-64 the Warren Commission's Howard Willens writes a letter over Chief Justice Warren's signature to AEC chairman Glenn Seaborg, asking him for information about "Lee Harvey Oswald...and Jack Ruby...as well as other information which you may believe to be relevant to our investigation."
On 1-6-64 the AEC's Dr. English calls the FBI's Gallagher to tell him of this development. He assures Gallagher that Seaborg agrees that "the FBI should have complete control of the examinations and the results" and that "any data obtained from these tests would be reported by the FBI." A memo from Jevons to Conrad on this date relates that "Dr. English was advised that the Bureau has no objection" to Seaborg's telling Warren about the tests. The real question, of course, is why hadn't Warren already been told about these tests?
On 1-7, Warren Commission General Counsel Lee Rankin writes FBI Director Hoover. Rankin's been forwarded Aebersold's 12-11 letter to the Justice Department, and is "requesting advice concerning the feasibility and desirability of applying nuclear activation techniques to specimens of evidence."
On this same day Seaborg responds to Warren and lets the cat out of the bag. He admits they are cooperating on a "confidential basis" with the FBI and "are investigating the possibility of whether a very sensitive method of trace element analysis (the so-called 'activation analysis technique') may be of any value in further corroborating evidence already in hand..."
On 1-10, Hoover responds to Rankin's letter. Paraphrasing a Jevons to Conrad memo from the day before, he advises that "work is already in progress applying this technique to certain phases of the current investigation." He tells Rankin that Seaborg has already written Warren and "reported the existence of this joint effort." He doesn't attempt to explain why they kept this "joint effort" secret from the commission for the first month of its existence, and why they only told them about it after being asked directly.
it might seem "big" of Seaborg and Hoover to finally come clean with
Warren and admit they are conducting these tests, they may simply have
realized that it was bound to come out eventually. The January, 1964,
Journal of the Forensic Sciences includes an article by Dr. Guinn and
others entitled "Neutron Activation Analysis in Scientific Crime
Detection," with a subheading "Detection of Gunshot Residues," and a
footnote admitting that their tests are "supported by the Division of
Isotopes Development of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.")
On 1-11, Chairman Warren has General Counsel J. Lee Rankin send a memo to the other commissioners with a “Tentative Outline of the Work of the Commission” attached. Under the heading “Evidence Identifying Oswald as the Assassin of President Kennedy” it includes the subheading “other physical evidence” and the item “paraffin tests”. No mention of the negative result for Oswald's cheek. No mention of the NAA tests to be performed on the paraffin casts, as described in the letter from Aebersold.
The papers provided researcher Harold Weisberg in 1975 indicate that on 1-15, 1-16, 1-18, 1-20, and 1-21, tests are conducted at Oak Ridge on the paraffin casts of Oswald's hands and cheek. On 1-16, 1-17, and 1-20, similar tests are conducted on the materials used by the Dallas Police, in order to determine if they would have any effect on levels of barium and antimony found on the paraffin casts.These same papers indicate that on 1-22 and 1-23 the control tests outlined in December are performed.
During the 1-27 Executive Session, Rankin decides to tell the full commission that the AEC is performing tests on behalf of the FBI and Commission. Curiously, he tells them only of the tests to be performed on the bullet fragments, in order to ascertain how many bullets are represented, and nothing of the tests on the paraffin casts, which might actually demonstrate whether or not Oswald had fired a rifle.
Mark Lane, who has been acting as a defense lawyer for Oswald, tells
The Guardian that he has received a copy of the DPD's paraffin test
results from the files of Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade, and that
these results showed that the test for Oswald''s cheek was negative.
Over the next few days, this is reported nation-wide in newspaper
articles, including one written by columnist Jack Smith. This, one can
only assume, puts a halt to any plans harbored by the Commission to use
the tests against Oswald (as was suggested by Warren's 1-11 outline of
A 2-21 memo from J. Lee Rankin spells out that Warren Commission Counsel Norman Redlich and Melvin Eisenberg have been tasked with “Developing expert knowledge in certain areas of criminal investigation.” He lists “These areas, in the following order of priority, are: weapon identification; ballistics; paraffin tests; fingerprint and palm print evidence; handwriting identifications.”
On 2-27, Dr. Vincent Guinn of General Atomic, whose early offers of help had been rebuffed by the FBI, but who'd later been contacted by the AEC, returns to center stage. A Jevons to Conrad memo relates: "Today, Dr. Vincent P. Guinn called the FBI Laboratory and spoke to SA John F. Gallagher. He advised that since the assassination a large part of their efforts have been directed to the determination of powder residues taken from the hands and cheeks of individuals who have shot a rifle similar to the one reportedly owned by Lee Harvey Oswald. He advised that there appears that triple firing of this rifle will leave unambiguous positive tests every time on the paraffin casts. It further appears that washing the casts with diphenylbenzidine does remove one of the characteristic elements (barium) but such washings do not remove all of the other characteristic element in powder residues (antimony). Further be advised that the tests to date indicate that powder residues are deposited on both cheeks of the shooter after the rifle is fired either one time or three times. It appears, he added, that these results can be obtained even if the paraffin casts are made 2 1/2 hours after shooting the rifle providing that the skin of the shooter has not been washed in the meantime. He inquired if any information could be furnished him relating to the actual casts from Oswald. He stated he read about those casts in the newspapers but has no way to confirm the stories. SA Gallagher advised he was not at liberty to discuss this matter. Dr. Guinn asked who in Dallas might be knowledgeable on this subject. He was advised that he could not be given any information relative to these casts at this time."
memo is incredibly revealing. First, it tells us that, as proposed in
the 12-11 FBI/AEC meeting, Guinn was indeed brought on board as an AEC
consultant. Second, it tells us that he was tasked with unveiling
whether or not Oswald should have had gun shot residue on his
cheek, had he been the shooter. Third, it tells us he'd concluded that
yes, indeed, he should have. And finally, it tells us that these tests
were compartmentalized, and that Guinn was not allowed to know the test
results on Oswald's cheek cast, and thus his possible innocence. (One
can only assume they'd have no problem with people finding out his
possible guilt.) In any event, Gallagher and the FBI are now
aware that Guinn is curious, and that they need to release their
results before it looks like they're hiding something.
On 3-6, the FBI Laboratory advises Hoover that neutron activation analysis has been performed on the paraffin casts of Oswald's hands and face. Their report states that these casts were analyzed to determine if the casts "bore any deposits which could be specifically associated with the rifle cartridge cases found in the Texas School Book Depository." Their results indicate "No characteristic elements were found by neutron activation analyses which could be used to distinguish the rifle from the revolver cartridges." The report concludes that "Elements (barium and antimony) were found on the casts" but that "no significance could be attached to the residues found on the casts other than the conclusion that barium and antimony are present in amounts greater than would be expected to be found on the hands of an individual who has not recently fired a weapon." Note that there's no mention of their studying the "distribution on the body of the person firing" a rifle, as originally outlined by Aebersold. Note also that they fail to mention their comparing the cheek cast to the cheek of someone who'd recently fired a weapon.
On 3-6, the FBI's Dallas
office is also told of these tests. The memo reflecting as much
reveals that "The Union Carbide Corporation personnel at this site who
worked on the actual analyses of these specimens with the FBI
Laboratory examiners were Dr. Frank F. Dyer and Mr. Joel F. Emery."
Yes, that's correct. After initially conspiring with some AEC employees to hide the
existence of these tests from other AEC employees and the Warren Commission, the FBI had relied
upon some members of the private sector to actually run the tests.
letter from J. Edgar Hoover to Warren Commission General Counsel Rankin recites, almost word for word, the FBI Laboratory report from a few days prior (words taken from the report are in italics): “The paraffin casts from Lee Harvey Oswald were examined by neutron
activation analyses at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories Research Reactor
Site, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. These analyses were made to determine if the
paraffin casts from Oswald which were made, chemically treated and washed by
the Dallas law enforcement
authorities, bear any primer deposits from the rifle cartridge cases found in
the Texas School Book Depository following the President’s assassination. As a result of these examinations, the
deposits on the paraffin casts from the hands and cheek of Oswald could not be
specifically associated with the rifle cartridges. Elements (barium and antimony) were found on the
casts; however, these same elements were found in residues both from the above
rifle cartridge cases and from the revolver cartridge cases which were fired
from Oswald’s revolver reportedly between the time of the assassination and the
time of apprehension. No characteristic elements were found by neutron
activation analyses which could be used to distinguish the rifle from the
revolver cartridges. In view of the fact
that the paraffin casts were not made until after the reported firing and
handling of that revolver, no significance could be attached to the residues
found on the casts other than the conclusion that barium and antimony in these
residues are present in amounts greater than would be expected to be found on
the hands of an individual who has not recently fired a weapon or handled a
The letter fails to comment on the results of the test of Oswald's
cheek, and if the residue levels were suggestive he'd fired a pistol, a
rifle, or neither.
Also on 3-10, Jevons writes Conrad another memo regarding Guinn's 2-27 phone call to Gallagher. This memo re-presents Guinn's info in the context of the FBI's own findings (words from his 2-27 memo italicized): "Dr. Vincent P. Guinn has now informally advised us that since the assassination a large part of their efforts have been directed to the determination of powder residues on paraffin casts taken from the hands and cheeks of individuals who have shot a rifle similar to the one reportedly owned by Lee Harvey Oswald. He advised that it appears that triple firing of this rifle will leave unambiguous positive tests every time on the paraffin casts. It further appears that washing the casts with diphenylbenzidine does remove one of the characteristic elements (barium) but such washings do not remove all of the other characteristic element in powder residues (antimony). Further, he advised that the tests to date indicate that powder residues are deposited on both cheeks of the shooter after the rifle is fired either one time or three times. It appears, he added, that these results can be obtained even if the paraffin casts are made 2 1/2 hours after shooting the rifle providing that the skin of the shooter had not been washed in the meantime." (Note that Jevons now holds that Guinn "informally advised" the FBI of his findings. This implies that they are not to discuss these findings with anyone else, or put them down in any official report.) Jevons continues (words from the 3-6 FBI Lab report italicized): "Examination of the actual casts from Oswald by the FBI Laboratory examiners and personnel at the Oakridge Research Reactor, Oakridge, Tennessee, revealed that the elements (barium and antimony) were present on these casts. However, these same elements were found in powder residues in both the rifle cartridge cases and from the revolver cartridge cases which were fired from Oswald's revolver, reportedly between the time of the assassination and the time of apprehension. In view of the fact that the paraffin casts were not made until after the reported firing and handling of the fired revolver, no significance could be attached to the residues found on the casts other than the conclusion that barium and antimony in these residues are present in amounts greater than would be expected to be found on the hands of an individual who has not recently fired a weapon or handled a fired weapon." The memo goes on to repeat the closing of the 2-27 memo on Guinn: "During the course of Dr. Guinn's conversation with Dr. Gallagher of the FBI Laboratory, he inquired if any information could be furnished him relating to the actual casts from Oswald. He stated he read about those casts in the newspapers but has no way to confirm the stories. SA Gallagher advised he was not at liberty to discuss this matter. Dr. Guinn asked who in Dallas might be knowledgeable on this subject. He was advised that he could not be given any information relative to these casts at this time."
Well, this is a bit mysterious, isn't it? Guinn tells the FBI that gunshot residue probably should have been found on Oswald's cheek, and the FBI dismisses this by repeating the words of its Lab report--that they couldn't tell by looking at the residues whether they came from the rifle or the revolver, and that the tests revealed residues greater than one would expect to find on the hands of someone who hadn't handled a weapon. THIS IS A NON-SEQUITUR. This point is only relevant if the test of Oswald's cheek was positive. Only then does their inability to identify this residue come into play. Was the test performed on Oswald's cheek cast positive? If so, why not say so in this internal memorandum? And why do they keep discussing Oswald's hands, even when the memo is about his cheek? What is the FBI hiding?
Melvin Eisenberg from the Commission meets with the FBI’s Gallagher, in order
to learn more about neutron activation analysis.
The Jevons to Conrad memo on this meeting reflects "As you were
previously advised, it was not possible to distinguish the powder
residues of the rifle cartridges from the powder residues of the
revolver cartridges." Once again, there is no mention of the residue
levels found on Oswald's cheek cast, and whether this is pertinent to
the question of his having fired a rifle.
On 3-18 Hoover sends the Commission a memo answering some of Eisenberg’s questions.
Agent Gallagher receives a phone call from Louise Campbell of Science
Magazine. She asks if NAA is being used in the "Oswald case." She is
told "there would be no comment on this subject."
On 3-27, Roy Jevons sends another memo to Conrad, this one discussing the FBI Lab's contacts with Eisenberg. The memo notes that on 3-16 Eisenberg brought up Aebersold's letter from 12-11, and its suggestion that NAA could be used to demonstrate that Oswald had fired a rifle, and was told by agent Gallagher that "no elements were found during (the FBI's recent) tests to distinguish between rifle and revolver deposits" and that "nothing has come to our attention and to our knowledge nothing has been done subsequent to these examinations which would assist further in the interpretation of the data obtained." As Aebersold had suggested that, in addition to the possibility one could differentiate between revolver residue and rifle residue, the distribution of antimony and barium on the body of a suspect might also indicate whether or not Oswald had fired a rifle, the answer purportedly given to Eisenberg is non-responsive. Is Jevons hiding that tests have been performed along these lines, and that they can be used to suggest Oswald's innocence?
It appears so. There is no mention of Guinn's phone call to Gallagher in the memo. Guinn, we should reflect, told Gallagher that tests "indicate that powder residues are
deposited on both cheeks of the shooter after the rifle is fired either
one time or three times." So how can Gallagher, or his boss Jevons, claim "nothing has come to our attention and to our knowledge nothing has been done subsequent to the (FBI's recent) examinations which would
assist further in the interpretation of the data obtained." That's just lying.
Speak No Evil
A 3-30 Jevons to Conrad memo reveals that Eisenberg has just conducted a pre-testimony conference with the FBI's Cortlandt Cunningham, and has asked him to perform some quick tests using Oswald's rifle, paraffin, and diphenylbenzidine.
Jevons to Conrad memo reveals that these tests had been performed, and
that they "once again confirmed the unreliability of the paraffin
test." This is ironic. There was no mention of this "unreliability" in
the FBI's 12-9 summary report given to President Johnson, when they
used these tests to suggest Oswald's guilt.
On 4-1 FBI ballistics expert Cortlandt Cunningham testifies before the
Warren Commission. Eisenberg takes his testimony. Even though the Commission initially intended
to use the paraffin tests to demonstrate Oswald’s guilt, they have now decided
to trash the evidentiary value of these tests.
Cunningham states: “We were interested in running a control to find out
just what the possibility was of getting a positive reaction after a person has
thoroughly washed their hands. Mr. Killion used green soap and washed his
hands, and we ran a control, both of the right cheek and of both hands. We got
many reactions on both the right hand and the left hand, and he had not fired a
gun that day….That was before firing the rifle. We got no reaction on the
cheek…We fired the rifle. Mr. Killion fired it three times rapidly, using
similar ammunition to that used in the assassination. We reran the tests both
on the cheek and both hands. This time we got a negative reaction on all
casts…there were none on the hands. We cleaned off the rifle again with dilute
HCl. I loaded it for him. He held it in one of the cleaned areas and I pushed
the clip in so he would not have to get his hands near the chamber--in other
words, so he wouldn't pick up residues, from it, or from the action, or from
the receiver. When we ran the casts, we got no reaction on either hand or on
his cheek. On the controls, when he hadn't fired a gun all day, we got numerous
reactions.” Cunningham fails to state that these tests were performed just a day before, and at Eisenberg's request.
When asked if residues would normally be found on a man’s cheek after firing a rifle, Cunningham offers his personal analysis: “No, sir; I personally wouldn't expect to find any residues on a person's right cheek after firing a rifle due to the fact that by the very principles and the manufacture and the action, the cartridge itself is sealed into the chamber by the bolt being closed behind it, and upon firing the case, the cartridge case expands into the chamber filling it up and sealing it off from the gases, so none will come back in your face, and so by its very nature, I would not expect to find residue on the right cheek of a shooter…You can see when you close the cylinder, and each chamber lines up, there is a few thousandths space between. When the bullet is fired, the bullet jumps across this space and enters the ramp and then into the rifling. The gases always escape through this small space. The loss is negligible, but the gases are escaping on every shot. After you fire this revolver, you can see residues, smoke deposits and other residues around the entrance to the rear portion of the barrel which is next to the cylinder, as well as on the cylinder itself...So you would expect to find gunpowder residues on a person's hands after he fired a revolver.”
He then discusses a test he performed confirming this analysis, and supports the possible relevance of the test on Oswald’s hands: “The tests were run on me. I was the one who washed my hands thoroughly. I did not use a brush, I just washed them with green soap and rinsed them in distilled water…To remove possible dirt from my hands. I washed my hands. The gun was then wiped off with dilute HCl to get rid of any deposits already on the gun, and I fired it in our bullet- recovery room, four times--and then after firing I opened it up and ejected the cartridge cases into my hand, as I showed you earlier today. The amount of residue that you pick up on your hands from ejection of the cartridge cases was in my hand at the time. I then, under ideal conditions naturally, went back and had paraffin casts made of my hands and these were treated with a solution of diphenylbenzidine. The results of this examination were that we got a positive result on both casts, front and back. Many reactions in this area where I had ejected the cartridge cases in my hand were noted.”
Eisenberg then steers Cunningham back on course—the goal is to trash the test, not hold up revolver tests while trashing rifle tests. Eisenberg reminds Cunningham “By the way, you testified this morning that many common substances will produce a positive reaction to the nitrate test, so-called paraffin test. Will the handling of an unclean weapon also produce a positive reaction?” Cunningham responds: “Just as much as firing it will. That is what makes this test so unreliable. Handling a recently-fired weapon that is covered with residues--you would get just as many oxidizing agents in the form of nitrates and nitrites on your hands as you would from firing it and in some cases more especially up here and around here you would.” When asked if the FBI tests revealed any false negatives after someone had fired a revolver, Cunningham admits: “None of those were negative results, but they were not run under the same conditions…The only negative results were on the 20 people who were run as a control and who had never fired a gun, and even for those people they all got positive reactions at least on one hand.” When asked why the FBI continues to perform paraffin tests if they have so many false positives, Cunningham confides: “Many local law-enforcement agencies do conduct these tests, and at their request the FBI will process them. They take the cast and we will process them. However, in reporting, we give them qualified results, since we frequently will get some reaction. Numerous reactions or a few reactions will be found on the casts. However, in no way does this indicate that a person has recently fired a weapon. Then we list a few of the oxidizing agents, the common ones, such as in urine and tobacco and cosmetics and a few other things that one may come in contact with. Even Clorox would give you a positive reaction….There may be some law-enforcement agencies which use the test for psychological reasons Yes, sir; what they do is they ask, say, "We are going to run a paraffin test on you, you might as well confess now," and they will.”
The irony of this last statement is apparently lost on Cunningham. While he claims the tests are used to pressure suspects, and have little scientific value, he has apparently forgotten that both the Dallas Police Department and the FBI, in the hours and days after Oswald’s death, presented the nitrate tests on Oswald’s hands as compelling evidence he’d fired a rifle and killed the President. A dead man can't be pressured to confess.
On 4-2, Hoover sends J. Lee Rankin a memo regarding the standard paraffin tests for nitrates. He reports that, as Cunningham has just testified, an FBI agent was tested after washing his hands and received positive results, and that this agent then fired Oswald's rifle three times, and received negative results. Hoover notes that "In prior experiments conducted at the FBI Laboratory, it has been found that the paraffin test is unreliable as to whether a person recently fired a weapon." It's funny how Hoover and his FBI said nothing about this in their 12-9-63 Summary Report, which presented the tests on Oswald's hands as evidence of his guilt.
On 4-7, detective W.E. Barnes, the man who administered the paraffin tests on Oswald for the Dallas Police Department, testifies before the commission. When asked by Counsel David Belin "If I were firing a pistol, would this pistol leave a nitrate on my hands that would be detectable by the paraffin test?" he responds "It should, unless it (the chamber) is awfully tight." This, of course, contradicts what Cunningham has just told the commission. Barnes then explains that the residue could show up on both hands if the non-shooting hand was near the pistol, and that washing one's hands can throw off the test. When asked if one would expect residue to show up on one's cheek after firing a rifle, however, Barnes responds "Chances are smaller on a rifle than it would be for a revolver...Because your chamber is closed." When asked if finding nitrates on a suspect's hands would be more indicative of the suspect firing a revolver or a rifle, he confirms "The revolver would be more likely." He then acknowledges that he'd been asked to take the cast of Oswald's cheek by Captain Fritz and had never even tested a cheek before, and that the actual results of his tests are determined by doctors at Parkland Hospital. Nevertheless, Belin continues to prod him on the merits of the cheek test. Barnes asserts "Firing a rifle, you get your chamber enclosed with steel metal all around it, and the chances of powder residue would be very remote" and that "In my own mind, I didn't expect any positive report from the cheek to start with." He then explains that in his opinion they only conducted the test "to cut down criticism and to satisfy the public and to show the world that we tried to cover it..." When asked again if he'd expected any results from the cheek test, Barnes reiterates "I didn't personally, and I'm the one who made it. From my experience with paraffin casts and from my experience in shooting rifles, common sense will tell you that a man firing a rifle has got very little chance of getting residue on his cheek." He then readily admits that he's never read a periodical on paraffin casts, and that his ideas on the relative merits of the tests are strictly his opinion.
While Barnes' testimony about the meaninglessness of the cheek tests support Cunningham's testimony, his comments on the paraffin tests of the hands indicate he considers them worthwhile and of far more scientific value than suggested by Cunningham. It seems clear from his testimony that, should Oswald have been tried in Texas, the Dallas Police planned on dismissing the value of the paraffin tests of the cheek whilst simultaneously using the paraffin tests of Oswald's hands as evidence of his guilt.
On 4-15, a Jevons to Conrad memo reveals that Melvin Eisenberg is getting a little curious, and has decided to get a better understanding of neutron activation analysis. He has requested that the FBI's expert Gallagher obtain certain information for him. This information is contained primarily within Atomic Energy Commission quarterly reports prepared by Dr. Guinn. The final paragraph of this memo is a bit strange, and reveals that the FBI and AEC still refuse to trust the Warren Commission. Jevons writes: "although the above documents are public source information, Dr. Spofford G. English...(AEC) was telephonically contacted. He advised AEC has absolutely no objection to the dissemination of these items..."
On 4-22, Lt. J.C. Day of the Dallas PD testifies before the Commission. His testimony is taken by David Belin, and is supportive of detective Barnes' testimony of a few weeks prior. Day states: “Under my direction they made paraffin casts of the hand of Lee Harvey Oswald in Captain Fritz' office…I directed them to make it, and also paraffin casts or just of a piece of paraffin on the left side of the face to see if there were any nitrates there…(correcting himself) Right side…The test on the face was negative…It was just something that was done to actually keep from someone saying later on, 'Why didn't you do it?' Actually, in my experience there, shooting a rifle with a telescopic sight there would be no chance for nitrates to get way back or on the side of the face from a rifle...A rifle such as that one we are talking about here from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, in my opinion, would not throw nitrates back to where a man's face was when he is looking through a telescopic sight…I would expect more with a revolver with an open cylinder than I would from a rifle. Actually, for most practical purposes, I would not be surprised if there would be no nitrates from a man firing a rifle.” Here, once again, the Commission relies upon the personal feeling of a witness in place of actual tests. How hard would it have been to have twenty men fire the rifle three times, wait a few hours, and then see how many tested positive for nitrates on their cheek?
Months pass. A 7-2 Jevons to Conrad memo reflects that Warren Commission Counsel Norman Redlich called the FBI on this date and "advised that he had before him a draft of an article to be published by the Reader's Digest in the near future which included the use of neutron activation analyses on the paraffin casts taken of Oswald's cheek and hand for gunpowder residues." The memo continues that Redlich knew the FBI had conducted these tests, and that the FBI Laboratory had sent a letter to the Commission explaining their results, but that he couldn't find the letter, and was requesting a copy. Jevons then recites the basic findings in the letter he sent Redlich, including the by-now all-too-familiar mantra "In view of the fact that the paraffin casts were not made until after the reported firing and handling of the revolver, no significance could be attached to the residues found on the casts other than the conclusion that barium and antimony (the elements found in the residues) are present in amounts greater than would be expected to be found on the hands of an individual who has not recently handled a fired weapon." The final paragraph of Jevons' memo warns "Mr. Redlich advised that the Commission may want a deposition concerning these findings but he would consider it further and advise the Bureau."
Well, this raises several questions. For one, how did Redlich get a copy of this "draft"? Were prominent publications sending the Commission assassination-related articles as a matter of "courtesy," or did Redlich come by this on his own?
A 7-2 memo from Norman Redlich to Commissioner Allen Dulles, apparently written just after Redlich spoke with the FBI, gives a possible answer. Here, Redlich discusses the Reader's Digest article with Dulles without first explaining its subject matter. This suggests that Dulles, the former head of the CIA, had already known its subject matter and had in fact obtained the article himself--perhaps through "friends" at the Digest-- and had provided it to Redlich. The content of the memo is also intriguing. Redlich makes four basic statements: 1) “At best the analysis shows that Oswald may have fired a pistol, although this is by no means certain;” 2) “There is no basis for concluding that he also fired a rifle;” 3) "The presence of barium and antimony in the cheek cast is of no significance because Oswald might have touched his face with his hands after firing a pistol;" and 4) "barium and antimony are found on a variety of common substances." In other words, these tests are of no help in proving Oswald killed Kennedy.
This memo is nevertheless helpful to our understanding. In explaining why the cheek residue had little significance, Redlich writes: "I have been advised by the FBI lab that there had been insufficient experience with this technique to enable conclusions as to what would be the normal amounts of these elements on a person's cheek whether or not he had fired a weapon." This suggests that Gallagher had failed to tell Redlich of Guinn's tests, which showed that the levels on the cheek of one who'd fired a rifle were inevitably higher than the levels on one who had not, and gave numerical values to back this up.
On 7-29 proto-conspiracy theorist Mark Lane is interviewed on radio station WMCA. He tells its audience: “perhaps the most shocking piece of evidence is the statement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s chief in Dallas J. Gordon Shanklin, quoted in the New York Times and he said “I have seen the paraffin test” It showed that Oswald had nitrates, gun powder on his hand and on his face, it is proof that he fired the rifle.” The Chief of Dallas Police, Mr. Curry, was not so factual. He merely said “We have the paraffin test, boys” this is on November 23rd, "it’s just come in. It proves that Oswald was the assassin.” A series of FBI memorandums over the next three weeks culminates in Shanklin's stating that Lane’s “allegation is completely unfounded.” If the New York Times was asked to print a retraction, however, it was news they found not fit to print.
An 8-21 letter by Hoover to J. Lee Rankin accompanying a transcript of Lane’s radio interview makes sure the Commission knows that the FBI is completely innocent in this matter. Hoover assures Rankin: “The alleged announcements made by representatives of the Bureau, which are discussed on pages three and four of the enclosed transcription, are completely without foundation as no such announcements were made.”
The Return of Vincent Guinn
On 8-27, however, a wheel comes off the Warren Express. A UPI international news service release from Glasgow, Scotland announces “The use of radioactivity in criminology may determine once and for all whether Lee Harvey Oswald killed the late President John F. Kennedy, a San Diego, Calif. chemist said today. Dr. Vincent P. Guinn, 46, head of the activation analysis (A.A.) program of the General Atomic Division of General Dynamics Corporation, has been working on the problem with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “I cannot say what we found out about Oswald because it is secret until the publication of the Warren Commission Report. But I can tell you about activation analysis and crime,” the scientist said here.” The next day, an article in the 8-28 New York World Sun & Telegram written in Glasgow goes even further, reporting "In the case of murder of any crime involving a gun,” Dr. Guinn said, “there is a paraffin test where a wax impression is taken of the hand and cheeks. There is a need for a better procedure and about three years ago we began working on activation analysis. We bought a similar rifle from the same shop as Oswald and conducted two parallel tests. One person fired the rifle on eight occasions...it was positive in all eight cases and showed a primer on both hands and both cheeks. Then we took the casts of Oswald's cheek and put them in a nuclear reactor.”
memo from Jevons to Conrad reflects the FBI's concerns about this
development. Hoover himself has asked Jevons "What about this?". Jevons responds by reciting that the FBI and AEC had worked out an
arrangement "to have our Laboratory experts work with the AEC
contractor" to conduct NAA tests on the paraffin casts "on a highly
confidential basis." Jevons reminds Conrad (and the director) that
the results delivered to the President's Commission "added little to
the investigation" and that "Guinn did not
participate in the actual examinations nor have the results of these
studies been discussed with him by FBI Laboratory personnel. It is not
known whether the AEC or the President's Commission may have conferred
or consulted with Guinn; however, Guinn is known to be a publicity
seeker." This memo is disingenuous. Jevons wrote Conrad on 2-27 and told him of Guinn's phone call to Gallagher. Guinn discussed the use of NAA on paraffin casts in this phone call. On 12-12-63, moreover, Jevons wrote Conrad and told him the AEC was gonna bring Guinn on as a consultant. Either Jevons' memory regarding Guinn's role was MIA, or he was practicing CYA.
On 8-31 the Dallas Morning News runs their own article on Guinn's statements in Scotland about the use of NAA, entitled "New Test May Tell if Oswald Shot a Gun." The FBI's Special Agent in Charge for Dallas, J. Gordon Shanklin, who'd previously told the New York Times that the paraffin tests performed in Dallas proved Oswald's guilt, calls Laboratory Director Conrad and warns him about the article, written by Hugh Aynesworth. Beyond the statements by Guinn already cited, Aynesworth relates that Guinn "said when it was concluded that Oswald's guilt could not be proved or disproved from paraffin tests made by the Dallas Police, he asked the FBI to try the neutron activation analysis technique. Guinn described the experiment in this manner: A rifle similar to the one that killed the president was used. One person fired the rifle on eight different occasions and each time was given the paraffin test. 'Only one out of the eight experiments gave a positive identification,' Guinn said. Then they repeated the experiment using radioactivity. 'It was positive in all eight cases, and showed a primer on both hands and cheeks,' he said. 'Then we took the casts of Oswald's cheek and put them in a nuclear reactor. Remember that they already had been through the chemical tests which would wash particles away. I can say for the moment that we found no barium but we found antimony in every case,' Guinn added."
An article in the September 1964 Reader's Digest brings Guinn's discussion of NAA to middle America. This article, entitled "Atomic Energy--Ace Detective," written by James E. Roper and Donald Robinson, quotes Guinn extensively and pushes for NAA tests to be performed in place of the standard paraffin tests for nitrates. It relates "NAA ignores nitrates, but detects any deposits of antimony and barium. These elements, used in the primers of all cartridges, are deposited on any person who fires a gun. Unlike nitrates, they are so rare that they do not collect on the skin of a person who has not fired a gun. Dr. Guinn's tests have already cleared several suspects. When President Kennedy was assassinated, Dr. Guinn promptly suggested to the FBI that NAA tests be run on casts obtained from Lee Harvey Oswald, and highly secret NAA tests were run. The results, which included the discovery of antimony traces, were given to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination."
Oh well, so much for the
to ignore the tests they’d known about since early March. As this
article is clearly the article Redlich had been reading back in early
July, one can only wonder why he hasn't prepared for its release.
On 9-5, a Warren Commission internal memo from Melvin A. Eisenberg to Norman Redlich reveals that, with the Warren Report all ready to be printed, they have finally decided to interview a member of the FBI about the NAA performed on the paraffin casts. It seems clear Guinn's statements are the impetus. Eisenberg lists questions Redlich should ask the FBI regarding the tests performed more than seven months before. Included on this list are: “When the test was performed on the paraffin cast?”; “Were barium and antimony found on both sides of the paraffin cast of the cheek?”; “If so, doesn’t that indicate that the casts were contaminated so that the whole test was worthless?”; “What is the meaning of statement in the letter from the FBI that there were more barium and antimony on the casts than might normally be expected to be found on a person who had not fired a weapon?” The leading nature of these questions indicates that Eisenberg, and by extension, Redlich, have decided, before even taking the testimony, that the testimony should focus on the irrelevance of the test on Oswald's cheek.
This isn't all that surprising. Let's reflect for a second. The tests were performed in mid-January. The test results for Oswald's hands have been mentioned in numerous reports and letters. And yet not once in all these reports has the test performed on Oswald's cheek cast been discussed, beyond that the tests were unable to differentiate between revolver residues and rifle residues. WHY HAS THERE BEEN NO DISCUSSION OF THE RELATIVE LEVELS OF RESIDUE ON A SHOOTER'S CHEEK WHEN FIRING A REVOLVER, AS OPPOSED TO FIRING A RIFLE? The use of NAA to test these levels, and the use of this information to determine if Oswald had fired a rifle, was first discussed by Aebersold in his 12-11-63 letter, and was discussed in more detail by Guinn in his 2-27 conversation with Gallagher. If the FBI had failed to perform these tests, they would have been truly negligent. And yet, they haven't mentioned these tests in their reports. Are they hiding something?
I believe so. Eisenberg's questions reveal his knowledge of these tests. He knows that there were problems with the test of Oswald's cheek cast, and that the FBI has decided that the cast was "contaminated." That the FBI has failed to say as much in any of their reports is more than a little suspicious.
Jevons to Conrad memo reveals that Redlich has called John Gallagher
and has asked him to testify as soon as possible.This memo repeats the
FBI mantra that "Deposits found on the paraffin casts from the hands
and cheek of Oswald could not be specifically associated with the rifle
cartridges." Once again, there is no mention of the test on Oswald's
cheek cast, nor on the problems with the test discussed in Eisenberg's
questions for Redlich.
On 9-15, John F Gallagher, the FBI’s Spectrographic Specialist, testifies in private before Warren Commission Counsel Norman Redlich about the neutron activation analysis tests performed on the paraffin casts many months before. The men who actually performed the tests, Dr. Frank Deyer and Joel Emory of Union Carbide, are not called. With only a few interruptions, Gallagher testifies:. “Neutron activation analyses were conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., on the paraffin casts from the right hand, the left hand, and the right cheek of Lee Harvey Oswald…The paraffin casts were analyzed by neutron activation analyses to determine if these casts from Oswald, which were made, chemically treated, and subsequently washed by investigators in the Dallas area, bear any deposits which could be associated with the rifle cartridges found in the Texas School Book Depository Building…The deposits found on the paraffin casts from the hands and cheek of Oswald could not be specifically associated with the rifle cartridges. The casts from Oswald bore elements--namely, barium and antimony--which were present in the powder residues from both the rifle, and revolver cartridges. No characteristic elements were found by neutron activation analysis of the residues which could be used to distinguish the rifle from the revolver cartridges. In view of the fact that the paraffin casts were not made until after the reported firing and handling of the fired revolver, no significance could be attached to the residues found on the casts other than the conclusion that the barium and antimony in these residues are present in amounts greater than found on the hands of an individual who has not recently fired or handled a recently fired weapon.”
If Gallagher’s words sound familiar, it’s no wonder—the italicized words above are all in the March 6 FBI Laboratory report or Hoover's March 10 letter to Rankin quoting this report. From this it's clear that Gallagher was allowed to read from his report during testimony. (One can only wonder how many other witnesses were afforded this same "courtesy".) Gallagher's testimony goes a bit further than his report, however. He tells the Commission “It is my opinion that the person from whom these casts were removed may have either handled a fired weapon, or fired a weapon”, and that his tests are more definitive than the traditional paraffin tests because “The determination of barium and antimony by neutron activation analysis is specific. Although there are commercial products which contain the elements barium and antimony, these components in many of these commercial products are not as available for contaminating purposes as are nitrates and oxidizing agents detected by the diphenylamine or diphenylbenzi-dine tests.”
Gallagher does discount the value of one of his tests. Not surprisingly, it is the neutron-activation analysis of the paraffin cast of Oswald’s cheek. He asserts: “Barium and antimony were found on the cheek casts. However, when the cheek cast was analyzed, both surfaces of the cheek cast were studied. That is, the surface adjacent to the skin of the subject and the surface away from the skin of the subject, or the outside surface of the cast…The outside surface of this cast was found to contain-barium and antimony--actually more barium was found on the outside surface of the cast than on the inside surface…There was slightly less antimony on the outside of the cast than on the inside of the cast…I have no explanation for this difference...I found that there was more barium and antimony on the inside surface of the cast than you would find on the cheek of an individual who had recently washed his cheek. However, the significance of this antimony and barium on the inside of the cheek is not known…The outside surface of the cheek was run as a control for this particular specimen.” Redlich then leads: “And therefore the presence of a lesser amount of barium and a slightly larger amount of antimony on the inside surface was one of the reasons why you could not make a determination as to the significance of the barium and antimony on the inside surface, is that correct?” To which Gallagher replies, “Yes, sir.” Gallagher eventually states it was possible the higher levels of antimony were related to Oswald’s firing a pistol.
While at first it might seem generous for Redlich and Gallagher to refuse to use the barium and antimony on Oswald’s cheek to demonstrate that Oswald fired the shots that killed Kennedy, there is another level to Gallagher’s testimony that should not be overlooked. Implicit in Gallagher’s statements is that the levels of barium and antimony found on Oswald’s cheek were lower than would be expected of a man who’d recently fired a rifle, but higher than would be expected of a man who’d just washed his cheek. Well, first of all, how would Gallagher know the levels one should expect for a freshly-washed cheek? On 7-2, Redlich reported to Dulles that he'd been told by the "FBI lab", almost certainly Gallagher himself, that the FBI had "insufficient experience" to determine what a normal level of barium and antimony on the cheek would be, and there is no evidence they'd studied it afterward. And second of all, no one testified that Oswald had just washed his cheek! More to the point, there was nothing offered to indicate that the cheek casts were rinsed nor that rinsing them would remove barium and antimony at anywhere near the rate of removal obtained by washing one's cheek. As the DPD was purported to have rinsed all the casts, and as Oswald's hand casts revealed plentiful barium and antimony, it makes little sense for Gallagher to assume the cheek cast was substantially impacted by the DPD's purported rinsing of the casts. When asked how the rinsing of the casts with diphenylbenzidine and water had impacted his results, Gallagher was, not surprisingly, suspiciously vague, telling Redlich "I can say that the washing did not remove all the antimony and barium...Chemical treatment and washing will remove portions of the barium and antimony from the casts. This was determined from test casts which were studied in connection with these analyses. But it did not remove all the barium and antimony." (That the amount of barium and antimony rinsed off the casts would be less than the amount washed off a cheek is supported by an article by Raymond Aaron in the June 1991 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Aaron states "washing the hands removes essentially all GSR deposits." "Essentially all" sure sounds like a lot more than the "portion" described by Gallagher, but maybe that's just me.)
From this it seems that, instead of comparing Oswald's cheek cast to the cast of a man who'd just washed his face, Gallagher should have been comparing the amounts of barium and antimony on the paraffin cast of Oswald’s cheek to the levels on the face of someone who'd recently been working with books, and had handled a pistol. (On 3-18 Hoover had sent the Commission a list of items containing barium and antimony; at the top of the list of items containing barium and antimony was…printed paper.)
There is just something odd about Gallagher's testimony. Could he really be contending we should disregard the implications of the LOW levels of barium and antimony found on the inside of the cheek cast simply because the outside of the cheek cast had been contaminated, and had overly HIGH levels of barium? Does this make sense? And, even if it does, shouldn't there have been an investigation to determine just how this cast had become "contaminated"? And isn’t it suspicious that the test results discounted by Gallagher, which the Commission has known about since March, and which they were clearly hoping to leave out of their report, just so happened to suggest Oswald’s innocence? And that Redlich didn't ask about the numerical results of these tests? I mean, at what point does your smoke and mirrors detector go off? Because mine’s chirping like crazy…
Gallagher is the last witness to testify for the Commission. With his testimony, Eisenberg and Redlich complete their mission of turning the problematic results of the paraffin tests into a possible indication of Oswald’s guilt. They had performed magic. Almost in plain sight. Not surprisingly, Gallagher’s test results are not supplied to the Warren Commission and are not included in the hundreds of thousands of pages of assassination-related documents fed into the archives.
Jevons writes Conrad to report on Gallagher's testimony. He states "SA
Gallagher met with Mr. Redlich and after a conference with Redlich a
deposition was taken." (One can only wonder what was discussed at this
"conference.") Not surprisingly, Jevons submits that "In essence, SA
Gallagher deposed that deposits characteristic of primer residues were
found on the Oswald casts, which were taken from his hands." He then
repeats the mantra "The deposits found on the paraffin casts could not
be specifically associated with the rifle cartridges." There is no
mention of the tests performed on Oswald's cheek cast, nor of
Gallagher's acknowledgment to Redlich that this cast was inexplicably
On 9-18, Gallagher contacts Dr. Spofford English of the Atomic Energy Commission and alerts him to the 8-28-64 article on Guinn and the aspects of the article which are in opposition to the now official story.
On 9-21, Jevons writes Conrad to report on Gallagher's phone call to English. He describes Guinn as a "typical 'high pressure salesman' with a sound scientific background who is actively promoting the sales of his company's nuclear reactors and services." He reveals that "Since Dr. Guinn is an AEC contractor, Dr. English advised he would have Mr. E. Eugene Fowler, Acting Director of the Isotopes Division, AEC, contact Dr. Guinn as soon as practical and advise him that both the FBI and the AEC are concerned over the releases attributed to him relating to the assassination of President Kennedy. Guinn will be asked to cease commenting on this sensitive subject." Jevons also mentions that "Dr. Guinn recently received the American Nuclear Society's 1964 Award for 'particularly meritorious contribution' of 'a unique and proven tool to assist the law, clear the innocent and convict the guilty." Well, perhaps this explains the FBI's avoidance of Guinn. Guinn believes that NAA can be used to establish a defendant's innocence, as well as his guilt. As made clear by Jevons' 11-27 memo, the FBI never had any interest in using NAA to test Oswald's innocence, only in using it to suggest his guilt should the other evidence against him have proved insufficient.
On 9-23, Jevons writes
Conrad again, this time to inform him that a copy of Gallagher's
testimony "was furnished this Bureau for review and necessary
corrections have been made. The corrected version of this deposition
was returned to Mr. Redlich by SA Gallagher on 9/21/64. The changes
were shown to Mr. Redlich and were accepted. A copy of the deposition
showing the changes is attached hereto." (If anyone has this deposition
complete with Gallagher's notations it should prove most interesting.
That the FBI was fond of changing testimony is demonstrated by a
12-15-64 Jevons to Conrad memo, in which Jevons reviews the
already-published testimony of his experts, including Cunningham and
Gallagher. The memo includes a nine page list of changes Jevons would
still like to make. Most of them are subtle. For example, he asserts
that Gallagher's statement "However, the significance of the antimony
and barium on the inside of the cheek is not known" should be edited to
"However, in view of the data obtained from the back of the casts,
the significance of the antimony and barium on the inside of the cheek
is not known." One can only hope the FBI lab's experts were as careful
in coming to their conclusions as they were in describing them...)
On 9-24, the Warren report is released with references to Cunningham’s and Gallagher’s testimony. The overall pattern is to attach no significance to the paraffin tests, some significance to the neutron activation analysis of the paraffin casts, and none whatsoever to the analysis of the paraffin cast of the cheek. The report states: “The paraffin casts of Oswald's hands and right cheek were also examined by neutron-activation analyses at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Barium and antimony were found to be present on both surfaces of all the casts and also in residues from the rifle cartridge cases and the revolver cartridge cases. Since barium and antimony were present in both the rifle and the revolver cartridge cases, their presence on the casts were not evidence that Oswald had fired the rifle. Moreover, the presence on the inside surface of the cheek cast of a lesser amount of barium, and only a slightly greater amount of antimony, than was found on the outside surface of the cast rendered it impossible to attach significance to the presence of these elements on the inside surface. Since the outside surface had not been in contact with Oswald's cheek, the barium and antimony found there had come from a source other than Oswald. Furthermore, while there was more barium and antimony present on the casts than would normally be found on the hands of a person who had not fired a weapon or handled a fired weapon, it is also true that barium and antimony may be present in many common items; for example, barium may be present in grease, ceramics, glass, paint, printing ink, paper, rubber, plastics, leather, cloth, pyrotechnics, oilcloth and linoleum, storage batteries, matches and cosmetics; antimony is present in matches, type metal, lead alloys, paints and lacquers, pigments for oil and water colors, flameproof textiles, storage batteries, pyrotechnics, rubber, pharmaceutical preparations and calico; and both barium and antimony are present in printed paper and cloth, paint, storage batteries, rubber, matches, pyrotechnics, and possibly other items. However, the barium and antimony present in these items are usually not present in a form which would lead to their adhering to the skin of a person who had handled such items.” There is no reference to Guinn and his tests in the report.
Now painfully aware that his test results were ignored and that his
comments have angered the FBI and AEC, Guinn writes a letter to the New
York World Telegram & Sun on 9-25. He complains “In
my opinion, the person who is responsible for the version that you published
should be thoroughly bawled out--it is the worst job of reporting I have ever
seen…Your version was shot full of atrocious misstatements. Worse yet, the writer had the gall to make up
his own statements, then put them into alleged direct quotations attributed to
me... All in all, I think your newspaper should hang its face in shame for
publication of such garbled and erroneous nonsense.”
He then clears up a few mistakes in the article: "We at General Dynamic
did not work with the FBI on the Kennedy case. We offered to,
immediately after the assassination, but our offer was not taken up by
the FBI. We did carry out test firings with an identical rifle, on our
own, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department, and made
NAA measurements on paraffin casts from this study which yielded
valuable information. This information was passed on to the FBI with
the recommendation that they undertake NAA of the "used" Oswald casts,
which by that time had apparently been turned over o the FBI. We
understand that they acted upon this suggestion, but we at General
Atomic had no hand in their measurements, and have no knowledge of
their results." Guinn continues "The statement, 'We found no barium but
we found antimony...' is an almost accurate statement of what I said
about the results we obtained from the test firings of a similar
Italian rifle (not the one used in the assassination) following NAA
measurements on hand and cheek paraffin casts after they had first been
processed by the usual chemical test." It is revealing that Guinn never disputes the
article's representation of his basic findings, i.e., that the paraffin
cast of Oswald's cheek probably should have revealed plentiful residue, had Oswald fired his rifle three times at the motorcade as purported.
(While Guinn, with this letter, effectively resolves the question of whether he'd ever worked for the FBI in an official capacity, he is being deliberately disingenuous. In 1975, in a sworn affidavit, Bertram M. Schur, the AEC's Associate General Counsel, would explain: "Some analytical work on simulated evidence was done by General Atomic at the John Hopkins Laboratory for Pure and Applied Science in San Diego, California, using a 6.5 mm. Mannlicher-Carcano rifle of exactly the same type as the one involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. This work was funded under an AEC contract, and was done in furtherance of a continuing, independent research program that began in 1962. The work involved no evidence samples from the assassination and was not done on behalf of the Warren Commission." Thus, the official story is that 1) the FBI sought the assistance of the AEC, 2) the AEC told them they were gonna consult with Guinn, 3) Guinn was PAID by the AEC to conduct tests on rifles like the one purportedly fired by Oswald, 4) Guinn reported his findings to the FBI agent supervising the NAA tests, John Gallagher, only to have Gallagher report his own tests to the Warren Commission, without mentioning Guinn's findings, and that, therefore, 5) Guinn never worked for the FBI, nor on behalf of the Warren Commission." Wink-wink. Nudge-nudge. Get it? It seems "plausible deniability" is not just practiced by the CIA.)
An article by Guinn in the October 1964 Journal of the Forensic Science Society confirms that he felt there should have been gunshot residue on Oswald's cheek. After discussing the use of neutron activation analysis in detecting gunshot residue on men suspected of firing a handgun, Guinn states “Similar studies with rifles and shotguns are now being initiated, but to date the only such studies carried out have been with one particular type of rifle. These measurements, however, produced very interesting results, namely, that firing of this type of rifle deposited quite measurable amounts of Ba (Barium) and Sb (Antimony) on both hands and both cheeks of the firers.”
In January, 1965,
a letter written by Guinn is published in Science Magazine, summarizing
the August Glasgow conference and announcing that abstracts of the
conference are now available. He doesn't mention the Kennedy
assassination. Within a few months, however, the paper delivered by
Guinn at the August 1964 Glasgow conference is published in the book
Activation Analysis Principles and Applications. It supports Guinn's
account of his statements in that it confirms that he'd never claimed
to have worked with the FBI or for the Warren Commission. Even so, it
is still intriguing, and damaging to the Commission's case. Guinn
asserts "an Italian rifle, identical in type to the one allegedly used
by Oswald, was purchased from the same store--in a study carried out
jointly by the Los Angeles Police Department and the author's
laboratory. A series of tests was made to determine the levels of
residues on the cheeks and hands of a person firing it for various
numbers of shots. Paraffin casts were made, some tested then by the
diphenylamine procedure, others by NAA. The diphenylamine results were
useless, but the NAA method clearly detected both Ba (Barium) and Sb
(antimony), on both cheeks and both hands of the firer each time. The
chemically-tested casts were then also examined by NAA; Sb was still
found, but not Ba. Subsequently, the F.B.I. examined the Oswald
casts, which had been tested by diphenlyamine in Dallas, by this NAA
procedure." (Aha! The root of the confusion! Guinn clearly implied his
tests pre-dated the FBI's tests and that the FBI conducted its tests as
a result of his information. This, apparently, was not true, but
neither Guinn nor the AP reporter reporting on the conference could
have known this.)
Guinn's chapter in the book then updates his paper, stating, in a "note added later": "as described in the Warren Commission Report, the NAA measurements showed the presence of Sb and Ba on both hand casts, and the one cheek cast of Oswald, but the results were inconclusive, as they were found on the outside as well as inside surface of each cast, presumably indicating careless handling of the casts at some earlier time." Well, this is intriguing. By saying "presumably," was Guinn expressing skepticism? And, by telling his fellow scientists that the problem was that barium and antimony were found on the outside of the casts, without admitting that the problem centered on one cast--the cheek cast--was Guinn trying to hide the suspicious nature of the problem?
Perhaps. On the other hand, in the aftermath of the Warren Commission, Guinn doesn't exactly shrink from controversy. In a June '67 article in Ramparts Magazine, and then again in his 1968 book on forensic evidence, Invisible Witness, former FBI man William Turner reports that Guinn admitted that he and a Los Angeles Police Department criminalist named Raymond Pinker had tested a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle like Oswald’s and had found abundant gunshot residue on the cheeks of those firing the rifle every time. (Amazingly, Vincent Bugliosi, in his monster book Reclaiming History, ignores Guinn's published statements and implies that Turner misquoted Guinn. Yikes. Perhaps Vinnie's monster book needed a little more research and a little less rhetoric.)
In any event, when first released, Turner's book wasn't so readily dismissed. In 1969, presumably as a response to Turner's book, someone popped up with a perfectly reasonable explanation for the lack of residue on Oswald's cheek. Well...maybe not so reasonable. In her book Investigation of a Homicide, Dallas Times-Herald Medical and Science writer Judy Whitson Bonner dismisses the significance of the paraffin test of Oswald's cheek by claiming "Although the hand test was positive, the cheek test was negative, but this is inconclusive because he could have shielded his cheek while firing." Yeah. Okay. Oswald shielded his cheek to protect it from residue, just in case he should be tested, but did nothing to protect his hands, and not only got gunshot residue all over his hands, he left smudged fingerprints all over the trigger-guard of the rifle. Right.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Over the next decade, researcher Harold Weisberg and lawyer Jim Lesar use the Freedom of Information Act and repeatedly sue the FBI and the Atomic Energy Commission for Gallagher’s test results, not only for his tests on the paraffin casts, but also for his tests on the bullet fragments. (The tests were reportedly inconclusive as to whether or not the wrist fragment had come from the magic bullet.) The Federal Government fights hard against their release. In late, 1970, the Justice Department moves to dismiss Weisberg’s case on the grounds that the release of the FBI’s analyses “would seriously interfere with the efficient operation of the FBI” and that this would “create a highly dangerous precedent.” On November 16, 1970, the Justice Department goes even further, arguing that “the Attorney General of the United States (the subsequently disgraced Watergate conspirator John Mitchell) has determined that it is not in the national interest” to divulge these test results. This tactic proved successful.
But Weisberg starts over. On page 414 of his book Post Mortem he discusses how on June 30, 1975, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Ryan sought to settle one of his lawsuits by delivering 400 pages of random notes and calculations. On page 437, Weisberg mentions that “Most of those hundreds of pages are the raw material of the testing of the paraffin casts…These paraffin tests were subjected to neutron activation analysis. They show deposits on the hands, which need mean no more than that Oswald handled any of the many ordinary materials that can leave the invisible traces that NAAs pick up. This means that he could have fired a pistol, not that he had. There is no similar evidence on his cheek. The tests given me show that in seven “control” cases where others fired a rifle this evidence was left on the cheeks.” If Weisberg interpreted these pages correctly, and Gallagher did indeed run “control” cases showing clear deposits on the cheek, then Gallagher knew that his tests provided compelling evidence that Oswald did not fire a rifle on November 22, 1963, and that he would have to tell this to Hoover and the White House, unless he could find a reason to distrust his own test. This should make us wonder if the excess barium on the back side of the cast was really as significant as Gallagher later testified, or was even on the cast when first tested.
September 2007 I acquired copies of thousands of the documents given to
Weisberg. I found only one "control" for the cheek performed by
Gallagher. And that was for a right cheek after only one shot had been
fired. As a number of the other documents discussed Guinn and his
tests, it seems likely Guinn's tests were the "controls" mentioned by
When one thinks about it, however, it makes little
difference if the "controls" mentioned by Weisberg were Guinn's tests
or Gallagher's. On 4-1-64 Cortlandt Cunningham of the FBI testified “No, sir; I personally wouldn't
expect to find any residues on a person's right cheek after firing a
after Guinn, as a paid consultant under contract to the AEC, had told
the FBI of his tests on this matter. It was months after the FBI had
created a paraffin cast of a shooter's cheek, and performed NAA on this
cast, and found measurable levels of antimony and barium. FBI Crime Lab
Ivan Conrad, Cunningham's boss, and section chief Roy Jevons knew of
Gallagher's and Guinn's test results and knew, therefore, that
Cunningham's "personal expectation" was dead wrong. And yet Jevons' 4-2
memo to Conrad on Cunningham's testimony fails to note this mistake.
Cunningham's testifying as an FBI expert, and offering a "personal
expectation' at odds with both Guinn's and the FBI's own test results
went uncorrected. From this it
seems likely that Conrad and Jevons and Cunningham were all well aware
of Guinn's and Gallagher’s results, and were afraid these results might
be interpreted as clearing Oswald of Kennedy's murder, and thereafter
sought to get around them by having Cunningham state his personal
taking Cunningham’s testimony was none other than Melvin A. Eisenberg, who’d discussed
the NAA residue tests with Gallagher on March 16, and had become
familiar enough with the issues that on 9-5 he coached Norman Redlich on
how one could ask about the "contaminated" cheek cast, and demonstrate that the test upon this cast was "worthless." From this it seems likely he’d conspired on
this deception as well.
But maybe that's just paranoid conspiracy thinking. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Guinn's and Gallagher's test results could have been used to support Oswald's innocence, and that the FBI and commission just so happened to keep them from the public.
The Lost Report Re-found
In November, 2007, I located and acquired a copy of Guinn's report on his tests. This report was not delivered to the Atomic Energy Commission until February 15, 1965, long after the Warren Commission had been disbanded. I re-print an excerpt below (with comments added).
A study of the disposition of Ba (barium) and Sb (antimony) on the hands and faces of persons who recently fired a rifle was made. Previously, only revolvers and automatic pistols had been investigated in this study. The weapon used in these tests was a used 6.5mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, of exactly the same type as the one used in the assassination of President Kennedy. The test firing and hand samplings were performed in a manner such that the conditions of the assassination were duplicated as nearly as possible. All of the persons who fired the rifle were right-handed, and the firings were performed in a room that had a door open to the outside; only a slight breeze was blowing at the time. The exact wind conditions at the time of the assassination were not known to us. (Note: this is a reference to an earlier test performed by Guinn. As recounted in his July 31, 1963 quarterly report to the Atomic Energy Commission, he'd found that wind direction in relation to a shooter makes a large impact on the levels of gunshot residue found on the shooter's hands. He found that six times as much barium and 50% more antimony would wind up on the hands of a shooter with a slight wind in front of him than on a shooter with a similar wind coming from behind. As Oswald was purportedly kneeling in front of an open window, with gusts of wind throughout the plaza, one might reasonably expect his cheeks to have more residue than the cheeks of Guinn's test shooters, who were not firing from a window. We'll see.) The hands and cheeks of the persons doing the firings were not sampled until three or four hours after they had fired the rifle. During this time, they went about their normal activities, but they did not wash their hands or face. This was to duplicate, approximately, the time between the assassination and the obtaining by the Dallas police of paraffin casts from the hands and right cheek of Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin. (Note: this seems about right. Although Oswald's hands and cheek were not tested until more than 8 hours after the assassination, he'd been sitting in police custody for most of that period.)
...The Ba and Sb values obtained from the casts on which the diphenylamine test was performed were quite scattered. The Ba values are low, the only apparent exception being for the right hand of the person who fired three shots. This cast is the only one that gave a positive diphenylamine test (a test for nitrates). However, the levels of Sb on the casts were still well above normal levels, even after the casts were treated by the chemical test. It appears, therefore, that performing the diphenylamine test on the paraffin casts removes the Ba fairly completely but does not remove significant amounts of Sb.
a result of these studies, the paraffin casts of the hands and right
cheek of Lee Harvey Oswald were analyzed by neutron-activation analysis
for Ba and Sb by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at Oak Ridge
National Laboratory. The casts had been previously treated with
diphenylamine by the Dallas police. As reported by the Warren
Commission, the results were inconclusive--not because of failure of
the activation analysis technique, but rather because of earlier
contamination of the casts, presumably by excessive handling. (Note:
once again, Guinn takes credit for the FBI's tests. One wonders if he
ever found out that they'd performed them without him.)
The important casts in rifle studies are those of the cheeks. Large amounts of Ba and Sb on the cheeks would indicate that a rifle had been fired, as these elements would not be expected to be deposited on the cheeks when a revolver or pistol was fired, unless the revolver or pistol was held very close to the face, which is unlikely. The Kennedy assassination is an example of a case where unaltered casts of the cheeks (i.e. not chemically treated and not mishandled) would have been extremely important. It was alleged that the suspect, after firing the rifle, also fired a revolver (there were witnesses to the revolver firing by Oswald, which resulted in the death of Officer Tippett). Casts of the hands alone would indicate that a gun had been fired, but it could not be determined whether it was a rifle or a hand weapon. High levels of Ba and Sb on the cheeks would indicate that a rifle had been fired, regardless of whether a hand weapon had also been fired. The normal levels of Ba and Sb on the cheeks have not been determined, but there is no reason to suspect they should be higher than the normal levels on the hands.
The Confusing Results and Resulting Confusion
Here are the results of the FBI's tests, which I received from the Weisberg Archives, and Guinn's tests, which I received from the U.S. Government. These tests were performed between December 1963 and February 1964. I noticed the initials RF on one or more of Gallagher's work sheets, and take that as an indication Robert Frazier, the FBI ballistics expert for the Warren Commission, was the actual shooter for at least some of the tests. Guinn notes that he used four different shooters in his tests (as designated by the initials DM, EM, B, and H). Gallagher's tests are noted as JG and Guinn's as VG.
The Left Hand Tests
This last result is interesting. While, on the unwashed casts, both Guinn and Gallagher found far more barium than antimony, the washed casts revealed more antimony than barium. As a result, it appears that far more barium than antimony is lost by rinsing. This is obviously what Guinn was talking about when he said there was no barium on the casts once washed. As there was still a measurable amount of barium, however, he should have said that there was far less barium in comparison to antimony on the washed casts than on the unwashed casts.
Beyond that observation, interpreting these results is rather complicated. Since Guinn used four different shooters in his tests, we cannot say for sure that repeated firings of the rifle decreased the amount of residue, or that washing the casts actually caused an increase in antimony. We can note the trends however.
Oswald's Left Hand Cast
there appears to be far more barium on Oswald's left hand cast than was
found on Gallagher's and Guinn's "controls" combined, it might be
ventured that Oswald hands were more heavily covered from his handling
his revolver, his firing from an open window, or both. Since the amount
of antimony on his left hand was only slightly more than on the the
controls, however, this makes little sense. After staring at these
numbers for a spell, I suddenly remembered that for his tests Guinn had
tried to minimize the amount of residue likely to be picked up through
handling, and had modified his palm casts to exclude the palm of the
shooter's hand. Sure enough, when one excludes the palm from Oswald's
left hand cast, one gets numbers much more in line with Gallagher's and
Guinn's tests of unwashed casts.
This leads me to suspect that Oswald's casts were not rinsed off, as purported.
The Right Hand Tests
While the notation of "specks" on these tests is vague and could be indicative that these totals are smaller than would otherwise be expected, it's nevertheless intriguing that Gallagher's results support Guinn's observations, in that the washing of the cast had far more impact on barium than antimony. Once again, strangely, we see that the amount of antimony on the cast after washing was higher than when it was not washed. As the two tests above were performed on different days, this probably reflects a different initial number, rather than that the washing itself had added antimony to the cast.
The Right Hand Tests, Cont'd
Well, these results are more than a bit erratic, wouldn't you say? Still, some observations can be made. On five out of five comparisons so far, the washed casts had a greatly reduced level of barium when compared to the unwashed casts. On four out of the five comparisons, the washed casts had a slightly increased level of antimony when compared to the unwashed casts. From this we can understand Guinn's finding that washing a cast had more of an impact on barium than on antimony.
Oswald's Right Hand Cast
the Ba/Sb ratio on both of Oswald's hand casts is nowhere near the
ratio for the control casts once washed, and is much more in line with
the unwashed casts, it seems more than likely the casts weren't
actually washed. In Table 6 of Guinn's February 15, 1964 report he
notes the levels of barium and antimony on 14 suicides, using various
revolvers and rifles. This gives us 28 hands on which to compare the
"normal" ratio levels on unwashed paraffin hand casts, where someone
has fired a weapon. (It is presumed that these casts, not created by
Guinn himself but by various coroners, were full casts, including the
palm of the hand). The ratios are 6.04, 2.13, 2.84, .39, 1.86, 1, 5.27,
6.87, .74, .53, 1.82, 6.71, 1.43, 4.61, 1.68, 2.12, 17.83, 31.74, 5.91,
5.74, 2.09, 2.68, 6.70 4.14, 1.07, 1.56, 9, and 11. Although the two
highest ratios were for someone who'd fired a .22 long rifle, it's
important to remember that the Warren Commission felt Oswald fired his
revolver five times after he'd fired his rifle. This means that the
ratio on Oswald's hands, assuming he killed both Kennedy and Tippit,
should be more in line with the revolver ratios.
In Table 3 of his July, 1963 report, Guinn noted the levels of barium and antimony on the shooting hands of fourteen men after they'd fired multiple shots with revolvers. Those shooting three shots with a .22 had ratios of 3.66 and 2.75. Those shooting six shots with a .22 had ratios of 1.88 and 1. Those shooting three shots with a .38 had ratios of 2.13, 1.33, 3.22, and 2.02. Those shooting 6 shots with a .38 had ratios of 2.56 and 1.94. Those shooting 3 shots with .45 had ratios of 5 and 5.47. Those shooting six shots with a .45 had ratios of 2.87 and 5.13. And yet the ratios on Oswald's hand casts are 28 and 25 to 1, when one includes the palm, and 13 and 14 to 1, when it is excluded. Something appears to be wrong.
In the April 1977 Journal of Forensic Sciences, Dr. S.S. Krishnan published an extensive study on gunshot residue analysis, in which he used NAA to detect the levels of barium and antimony. While collecting the gunshot residue by a different method than Guinn, and testing the entire hands of his subjects, his data is nevertheless informative. In Table 1 Krishnan reveals that he ran 300 tests on 6 different kinds of .38 caliber revolvers, and found that the deposits ranged from .19 to 1.4 micro grams barium, and .35 to 5.9 micro grams antimony, after a single firing. This means that of 300 firings, the highest possible barium/antimony ratio was 4 to 1. In Table 4 Krishnan compares his lab tests to some actual shootings, and reveals that the quantities and ratios of deposits are often higher outside the lab than in. Even so, the hands of the three killers using pistols and revolvers on this table had ratios of 11.36, 10.67, 5.59, 6.27, 7.71, and 3.34. So why were the ratios on Oswald's hands better than 25 to 1?
That Oswald fired his revolver multiple times is at best a partial explanation. In Table 5 Krishnan lists the results of 3 tests where a .38 caliber revolver was fired 4 times, unloaded, the cartridge cases handled, and the shooter's hands tested. One might think the ratios would be similar to those found on Oswald's hands. But no, once again the ratios are far less. The right hands in this study had ratios of 12.98, 11.15, and 8.95 to 1, while the left hands had ratios of 5.22, 3.47, and 4.56 to 1. The third test was performed 3 hours after firing. It would seem that the ratios decreased over time. And yet, Oswald's ratios, after 8 hours, were 28 and 25 to 1?
There's just too much barium on Oswald's hands compared to antimony.
The Cheek Tests
Well, this is more in line with our expectations. While the levels of antimony on the washed hand casts were greater than the unwashed casts four out of five times, this phenomena failed to occur on any of the four cheek casts tested by Guinn.
It's also important to note that, as already discussed, Gallagher's sole test on a cheek proved the assassination rifle leaked residue, and that FBI Agent Cunningham's subsequent testimony was misleading.
Since it seems likely Oswald's casts were not actually washed, and since Oswald was purportedly sitting in front of a window when firing his rifle, moreover, one might assume the level of antimony on his cheek cast would be higher than the .095 micro grams found on the cheek of Guinn's shooter. But one would be wrong.
Oswald's Right Cheek Cast
Intriguingly, while Guinn's unwashed control cast revealed .095 micro grams of antimony on his shooter's cheek, Gallagher found but .015 micro grams on Oswald's cheek cast. This .015 micro grams is barely half the .028 micro grams found on Guinn's shooter's cheek even after the cast was washed. When one considers as well that the level of antimony on the cheek side was barely more than on the back side (Guinn's own measurements were net) and that Oswald's hand casts had many times as much barium and antimony as Guinn's and Gallagher's controls, one might reasonably take the small amount of antimony on Oswald's cheek cast (as compared to Guinn's control) as an indication that he did not fire a rifle on 11-22-63.
Should one accept that Oswald killed Tippit, moreover, then one must also accept the probability that at least some of the residue on Oswald's cheek came from his firing his revolver five times, and touching his face afterward. Heck, even if he didn't shoot Tippit, it's clear he handled his revolver in the theater, and came in contact with some residue in the process. This makes the small amount of antimony on his cheek cast even more disturbing...and the larger amount of barium more intriguing.
Let's try and give this some context. In Table 1 of Guinn's February 15, 1965 report, he presents the values of barium and antimony found on the hands of 22 individuals who had not recently fired a gun. The levels for barium range from .48 to .01 micro grams, and average .13 micro grams, The levels for antimony range from .06 to .01 micro grams, and average .015 micro grams. Guinn states "The normal levels of Ba and Sb on the cheeks have not been determined, but there is no reason to suspect they should be higher than the normal levels on the hands." Since Oswald's cheek cast had .015 micro grams antimony, average for the hands of someone who has not fired a weapon, and since, as we've seen, washing the cheek casts probably had little effect on this number, and would have at best cut the original number in third, it seems likely the amount of antimony on Oswald's cheek was within the normal range.
When one looks at another report by Guinn, one can see that the amount of barium on Oswald's cheek may also be less than one should expect, should Oswald have fired his rifle three times. By 1966, Guinn had tested 18 more pairs of hands, and had found that the hands of people working in certain occupations, e.g., painters, carpenters and auto mechanics, had on average nine times as much barium on their hands as his earlier group, with a range up to 4.7 micro grams. As Oswald worked exclusively with books, and as J. Edgar Hoover had told the Warren Commission that printer's ink and paper were two of the products containing the most barium, it seems reasonable that Oswald might fall into this category. If so, the .30 micro grams barium on his cheek cast might also fall within the normal range for people in Oswald's line of work and fail to indicate he'd fired a rifle.
Of course, if one
presumes the .012 micro grams antimony and .97 micro grams barium on
the back of Oswald's cheek cast came from the front of his cast, one
might come to a different conclusion.
there is little to suggest the antimony and barium on the outside of
the cheek cast came from the inside of the cast. The paraffin test performed by the Dallas Crime Lab, after all, "showed no traces of nitrate" on Oswald's cheek. If the barium subsequently found on the cheek cast, both inside and out, had at that time been on the inside of the cheek cast, it seems probable it would have shown up at that time.
There's also this. In an online discussion, researcher Herbert Blenner and chemist Tom Pinkston alerted me to the little appreciated fact that barium, when in a form that is readily soluble, is extremely poisonous, and that most commercial forms of barium, including that in gun powder, are, as a result, not soluble. This means that the barium on Oswald's cheek cast, if it were from gunpowder, could be rinsed away, but would not readily dry onto the outside of the cast afterward. This is supported by the fact that the ratios of barium to antimony on the inside of Oswald's hand casts were 3-4 times greater than on the outside of the casts. As a result, one can not reasonably assume the .97 micro grams barium found on the back of the cheek cast came from the inside of the cast. To be consistent with the hand casts, moreover, one might assume the actual amount of barium on the outside of the cast would have been no more than ten percent of the amount on the inside, or .03 micro grams. This would put the level of barium on Oswald's cheek cast, inside and outside, at .33 micro grams, within the normal range of unwashed hand casts, and quite possibly within the normal range of washed cheek casts of men in his line of work.
Of course, if one rids oneself of the notion that the residue on the outside of the casts came from the inside, and instead considers that at least some of the contamination on the outside of the cast reached the inside part that touched Oswald's cheek, it is hard to come to any other conclusion than that the tests on Oswald's cheek cast, prior to contamination, were negative.
As a result, we
can understand John Gallagher's position when testifying before the
Warren Commission. There was no way he could explain these results
without casting doubt on Oswald's guilt, the scientific basis of his
and Dr. Guinn's tests, their ability to run the tests without
contaminating the evidence, or the competence and integrity of the
Dallas Police. He had little choice but to act as though the
contamination of the cheek cast made it impossible for him to come to
any conclusions. He had little choice but to bury his test results in
the FBI laboratory files, far, far, away from the Warren Commission and
the ever-curious gaze of the public.
But we can do more. J. Edgar's long dead and he can't fire us anyhow. When one looks at the diminished Ba/Sb ratios on the back of Oswald's hand casts as compared to the inside, it's clear that one should expect there to be 6-9 times the amount of barium on the back of the cheek cast as antimony, should the residue on the back have occurred naturally (or by the same forces causing the residue on the back of the hand casts). And yet there's 80 times as much! This means there's more than ten times as much barium on the back of the cheek cast as one should expect. This suggests that the cheek cast was contaminated by something other than gunshot residue. When one considers that ALL of Oswald's casts had a higher ratio of barium to antimony than found on Gallagher's and Guinn's controls, one should wonder if the contamination on the cheek cast was but a symptom of a larger illness, and that all the casts had been contaminated to some degree, quite possibly on purpose.
While looking online for support that gunshot residue tests are admissible in court, (a few single-assassin theorist fanatics had wrongly assured me that they were not) I came across a letter from Dr. Jon J. Nordby of Final Analysis Forensics, a prominent expert witness, and the author of five books on forensic science. In his December 10, 2003 letter to the Alabama Attorney General's office, Dr. Nordby makes several assertions that are relevant to this case. He asserts that, while a lack of gunshot residue on a defendant's hands is not by itself proof of his innocence, a lack of residue on his face and clothes, when a defendant is accused of repeatedly firing a weapon that is known to leak residue, is a strong indicator of his innocence. He asserts, as well, that "it is the ratio of barium to antimony that is important, not its simple presence or absence. To be indicative of GSR, in fact, its concentration should be 8.3 +/- 2 Ba to to 1 Sb otherwise the elements may have a source other than a gunshot."
While my initial analysis of
Ba/Sb ratios was spurred on purely by my desire to understand the data
received from Gallagher's and Guinn's tests, it appears from Nordby's
statements that studies have been conducted on these ratios, and that
the peculiar ratios on Oswald's casts are indeed suggestive that much
of the residue on his casts did not come from his firing a weapon. If so, then it seems more than a coincidence that Dallas Crime Lab analyst Louie Anderson, before turning the casts over to the FBI for further testing on 11-27, had taken them home. Did Anderson accidentally expose the casts to barium during their brief time in his possession? Or did he or someone working with him do this on purpose, under the mistaken belief the FBI's tests would not differentiate between the ingredients of gunshot residue, a la the paraffin test he regularly performed? The test for nitrates performed by Anderson, after all, "showed no traces of nitrate" on Oswald's cheek cast. And yet there was a measurable amount of barium on both the inside and outside of the cheek cast when subsequently tested by the FBI. Barium, of course, is a nitrate. While it seems possible the low level of barium on the cheek cast noted by the FBI was not readily visible when tested by Anderson, it seems far more likely the contamination came afterwards.
In any event, no follow-up questioning of Anderson was ever conducted. The source of the contamination remains a mystery.
The Ongoing Significance
In 1977 Dr. Vincent Guinn was hired by the HSCA to conduct tests on the bullet and bullet fragments recovered from the hospital stretcher, the limousine, and the President’s brain. True to form, he would once again announce his results to the scientific community before the government was ready to make an announcement. On June 25, 1978, the San Diego Union trumpeted “Lee Oswald Confirmed as the Killer,” citing Guinn’s speech before the American Nuclear Society as its source. Guinn’s test results on the fragments, of course, could in no way determine who’d fired Oswald's rifle. Guinn’s earlier tests, which could determine if Oswald had fired a rifle, and cast doubt on his guilt, were not mentioned.
There is an even more ironic aspect to Guinn's tests on the bullet fragments. When coming to his conclusion that the small fragment found in Governor Connally's wrist matched the bullet found on a stretcher, which meant that all the recovered bullet fragments could have come from Oswald's rifle, Dr. Guinn threw out the result for copper and relied on just one element. That element was...ANTIMONY. Since, when interpreting Gallagher's results for the test on Oswald's cheek cast, one must ignore the obviously bogus test result for barium, one should, by Guinn's own precedent, rely exclusively on the result for antimony. Only this time, the result suggests that Oswald did not fire a rifle. That's right, while some, including Kenneth Rahn, Larry Sturdivan and Vincent Bugliosi, hold that Guinn's results for antimony in the NAA test of the bullet fragments indicates that Oswald's rifle fired the shots, they can not do so without also acknowledging that similar tests using this same technology, for this exact same element, suggest that Oswald himself did not fire the rifle.
There's reason to believe Guinn was aware of this conundrum. A May 10, 1977 letter from Guinn to researcher Harold Weisberg and found in the Weisberg Archives proves most intriguing. Guinn writes: "At the moment I only have time to answer your letter briefly, but at a later time I can perhaps fill you in on the interrelationships of J. Edgar Hoover, Paul Aebersold, Jack Gallagher and myself in the Dallas case. Jack Gallagher is a good friend, so I doubt that he would have cast any aspersions on General Atomic or my group except under orders to do so from J. Edgar. I have received Xerox copies of all the spectrographic analyses (of the bullet lead specimens) and neutron activation analyses (of the paraffin casts and the bullet lead specimens) conducted by the FBI Laboratory, in connection with the Dallas case, and have examined them meticulously. I have also compared their results with my large collection of background NAA data on gunshot residues and bullet-lead comparisons (including data on Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5 mm ammo). Once my report on all this work is completed, I will be glad to send you a copy. I would indeed appreciate receiving copies of any relevant material that you have available, as mentioned in your letter."
The significance of this letter may at first seem illusory. On closer examination, however, it becomes clear that 1) Guinn had been provided Gallagher's data on the paraffin casts, and 2) Guinn was preparing a report for the HSCA on BOTH the paraffin casts and the bullet fragments. The report ultimately provided by Guinn made NO mention of the paraffin casts. It made no mention of the small amounts of barium and antimony on the inside of the cheek casts. It made no mention of the fact these quantities were far smaller than the amounts found on Guinn's controls. It made no mention of the uncomfortable fact that here there was a test that could clearly demonstrate Oswald's guilt, but that it instead suggested his innocence.
Guinn's HSCA testimony only underlines this strange failure on his part. After a New York Times article claimed Guinn had previously worked for the Warren Commission, and questioned his objectivity, Congressman Fithian asked Guinn the delicately phrased question: "Did you ever work for the Warren Commission or work for the FBI in connection with the analysis of these evidence samples?" To which Guinn responded "Neither one. I think Mr. Wolf called my attention to
the existence of this article, which I haven't seen, and I don't know
where they got their misinformation, but I never did anything for the
Warren Commission, and although I know people in the FBI, I have never
done any work for them." Pretty sneaky, that Guinn. He knew full well the confusion came from his working on the paraffin casts for another agency cooperating with the FBI, and not the FBI itself. He had reason to believe, moreover, that the FBI was sharing this information with the Warren Commission... But he failed to provide this information, and instead pleaded ignorance... Perhaps he was convinced that a discussion of the casts would lead to some uncomfortable questions, for which he had no answers.... Perhaps not.
Guinn died in 2002. The report on the casts he'd described never saw the light of day.
Apparently, he thought them inconclusive, as they were of little help in proving Oswald's guilt. In the April, 1979 issue of Analytical Chemistry, published
shortly before the release of the HSCA's final report, he proclaimed: "The FBI took the Oswald paraffin casts to the Oak Ridge National
Laboratory and analyzed them by neutron activation analysis [NAA] for the
possible presence of primer residue ... still there after the Dallas
dermal nitrate tests. The effort was thwarted by the fact that the casts
were badly contaminated, essentially as much Ba and Sb being found on the
outside surfaces of the casts as on the inside surfaces--which had been in
contact with Oswald's skin. The right cheek cast, if it had not been
contaminated by improper handling, might have established that Oswald had
recently fired a rifle."
Well, this is disconcerting. Either Guinn was lying or he had forgotten
there was, in fact, three times as much barium on the outside part of
the cheek cast as on the inside. Three times as much is not, last I
checked, "essentially as much". Guinn also failed to explain how he was
able to determine that the casts had been "contaminated by improper
handling." In 1965, let's remember, he wrote that they were contaminated "presumably" from improper handling. Had someone confirmed that they'd placed the cast...on a barium-covered counter? Or picked it up with barium-covered hands?
Was he unwilling to consider the more worrisome possibility someone exposed the cast to barium--which one might assume was in plentiful supply at a hospital such as Parkland--on purpose? The NAA test for gsr, after all, was brand new. Did someone think the cheek cast would be tested while intact, or that the results would be considered "positive" if either barium or antimony were discovered, sprinkle some barium powder on the cast?
It should also be noted that, as the use of the paraffin test declined, the use of neutron activation analysis to detect gunpowder residue on paraffin casts only grew in acceptance--so much so that by 1986 the standard text Scientific Evidence in Criminal Cases would state “neutron activation analysis and atomic absorption spectrophotometry for the detection of gunshot residues on the hands have received widespread judicial approval.” According to Larry Ragle, a retired Director of Forensic Sciences for Santa Ana, California, in his 1995 book Crime Scene, as NAA grew in acceptance, "the historical method of painting heated paraffin on the hands of the suspect shooter was selected as the method of choice" for collecting the residue. While this method of gunshot reside detection was prohibitively costly, and replaced almost entirely by the use of Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometers (AA) in the 70's and Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) in the 90's, I have found nothing to indicate that NAA tests for gunshot residue were prone to false positives or negatives, as would often occur with the standard paraffin test for nitrates performed in Dallas. A September 1990 article in the Journal of Forensic Science by Havekorst, Peters and Koons, for example, describes a study in which 267 random sets of hands were sampled using NAA or AA (which was generally considered a cheaper and slightly inferior alternative to NAA). Less than 2 percent of these came up positive.
By March 2006, in fact, testing for gunshot residue using these methods had become so routine that the FBI discontinued performing these tests themselves, asserting that local police labs could adequately perform these tests and that the FBI's resources were better spent on "areas that directly relate to fighting terrorism." A May 26, 2006 article in the Baltimore Sun, however, expressed doubt about the FBI's purported reasons for discontinuing the tests and revealed that the FBI had conducted an internal contamination study in 2005 and had found "the presence of hundreds of particles consistent with gunshot residue in several areas of the lab." This, naturally, resurrects the ancient question of whether Gallagher and the FBI Crime Lab had "contaminated" the Oswald cheek cast, or the Dallas Police.
As for conducting gunshot residue tests on the face as well as the hands...that also continued after Guinn's and Gallagher's tests and only gained in acceptance. A 1977 article in the Journal of Forensic Sciences by SS Krishnan asserted that gunshot residue could be found on the hands of those firing a rifle, albeit in quantities less than would normally be found on the hands of one firing a revolver. This finding, of course, could be extended to the cheek of one firing a rifle, which would be roughly the same distance from any gunshot residue as the hands. The 2000 text Current Methods in Forensic Gunshot Residue Analysis confirmed that "The face of the shooter can be sampled on occasions when firearms such as rifles and shotguns are used in the shooting. Test firings have shown that large amounts of GSR (gun shot residue) are deposited in these areas when certain types of weapons are used that cause a condition of blow back toward the chest, face, and hair." This book included the results of a "plume study" conducted in 1994. For this study, various rifles were fired in front of a high speed camera. Without exception, clouds of gun shot residue were captured flying back onto the face of the shooters. A World War II U.S. military carbine similar to the rifle used by Oswald was included in this study. The study found that the area of highest gunshot residue concentration after firing such a carbine was "from the crook of the support hand, and backward over the shooting hand, face, forehead and arm." The back of Oswald's left hand was, of course, nearly barren of residue. In 1995's Crime Scene, Larry Ragle confirms the current acceptance of gunshot residue analysis for the cheek and expands “By design, revolvers can leak…Rifles, depending on their construction and wear, can also leak. There is only one way to determine the leakage capacity of any weapon and that is to collect samples from the hands or face firing the weapon under controlled conditions while using the corresponding ammunition.” Of course, this is precisely the kind of test performed by Guinn and Gallagher back in 1964.
acceptance of gunshot residue tests of the face has, in fact, in some
ways, surpassed even that of gunshot residue tests of the hands. The
Elsevier Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences, published 2000, notes: "In
the case of a living shooter, the gunshot residue may be removed by
washing the hands; it may also be rubbed off the hands onto clothing.
Because of the possibility that gunshot residue may be deliberately
removed or inadvertently lost from a shooter's hands other sources of
gunshot residue should be considered. Gunshot residue may be deposited
on the face and hair of the shooter or on his clothing. Gunshot residue deposited in these areas will generally be retained longer than gunshot residue of the hands."
This, of course, feeds back into the question of why, 8 hours after the
shooting, there was plentiful residue on Oswald's hands, but so little
residue on his cheek. One possible solution, of course, is that he did
not fire a rifle on 11-22-63.
Also worth noting...While the paraffin test for nitrates
performed in Dallas had already
fallen in disfavor by 1963, its use remained widespread for years
afterward. In April 1965, Dr. LeMoyne Snyder, one of the nation's top forensic experts, published an article in Popular Science defending the work of the Warren Commission. He was critical on one point, however--its criticism of the paraffin test. He declared: "I have used it often with good results...I still regard it as a valuable investigative tool." As late as 1977, in fact, Snyder still stood by his guns. In his prominent text Homicide Investigation, he assured: "In investigating the assassination of President Kennedy, the Warren Commission was informed that the dermal nitrate test had no value. In view of the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald fired both a rifle and a revolver several times shortly before his arrest, it is very possible and even probable that a dermal nitrate test, properly conducted, would have revealed very valuable information." As detailed in his 1965 article, Snyder believed the test results for Oswald had little merit, as the test was conducted in an office after "Oswald's hands were probably contaminated by ink from fingerprinting." This last statement, which has no support whatsoever in the historical record, indicates that Snyder was well aware that something was wrong with the residue levels and ratios on Oswald's hands, and that, much as Guinn, he had rationalized this by blaming it on the incompetence of the DPD.
In January 1967, a detailed study of paraffin test results was published in The Journal of Forensic Sciences. This study concluded that the test was simply not reliable. Even so, it revealed some interesting probabilities, some of which have a bearing on the Oswald case. For one, the study showed that “Contrary to the general belief, it was the rifle rather than the revolver that demonstrated the broadest dispersion” of nitrates. Accordingly, 75% of those firing rifles were found to have nitrates on the fingers of their left hand. Bear in mind, this was after one shot. Oswald's paraffin test revealed no nitrates on the fingers of his left hand, after purportedly firing three shots with a rifle and five shots with a revolver.
An October 1974 article by S.S. Krishnan in The Journal of Forensic Sciences reported on a similar, albeit much smaller, study using neutron activation analysis to detect gunshot residue. This study found that one could predict whether or not someone fired a weapon with 80% accuracy by comparing the relative barium, antimony, and lead levels found on the test subject’s hands. It also found that the closer the levels, the more likely it was the test subject had merely handled a weapon. As Krishnan's study found that one should expect to find on average 2.33 times as much antimony, and 1.66 times as much barium, on the shooting hand of one who'd fired a .38 revolver, when compared to his non-shooting hand, and as Oswald's ratios were 2.18 for antimony and 2.01 for barium, it looks like Oswald did indeed fire his revolver on November 22, 1963.
That the residue on Oswald's right hand came from his merely handling his weapon is discounted by a more recent study as well. For this study, as described in the November 1995 Journal of the Forensic Sciences, the hands of 43 police officers—none of whom had recently fired a weapon-- were tested to see if they had picked up gunshot residue from merely handling their weapons. The tests were positive for only 3 of them. This once again suggests—it is by no means conclusive--that Oswald fired his revolver on November 22, 1963. If this is so, moreover, then Oswald is undoubtedly the leading candidate for the murder of Officer Tippit. If one is to use gunshot residue tests to suggest that Oswald shot Tippit, however, one must simultaneously acknowledge that these same tests failed to indicate that Oswald killed Kennedy, and that this absence speaks volumes.
The Probably Knot
the outset of the chapter 4b, I noted that, in order to demonstrate Oswald
acted alone, the commission was tasked with proving that three events
occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.
1. Oswald was on the sixth floor before the shooting, putting together his rifle and building the sniper's nest.
2. Oswald was in the sniper's nest window, with his rifle.
3. Oswald fired a rifle on 11-22.
1. Did the commission demonstrate that Oswald was on the sixth floor before the shooting, putting together his rifle and building the sniper's nest?
While the commission believed the answer was "Yes" I believe a more honest answer is "No." To the more precise question of whether or not Oswald remained on the sixth floor for the forty-five minute period beginning with the sixth floor crew coming down for lunch and the shooting, the answer is "absolutely not."
2. Did the commission demonstrate that Oswald had been in the sniper’s nest with the assassination rifle?
While the commission believed the answer was "Yes"
I believe a more honest answer is "No." As the only ones seeing the
sniper refused to ID Oswald as this sniper while he was alive, and
described a man in different dress than Oswald, and as Oswald was seen
on the second floor within 75 seconds of the shooting, calm and
collected, there is certainly room for doubt. As the threads found on
the rifle matched a shirt Oswald had most likely not been wearing at
work that day, the fiber evidence is actually more suggestive of DPD
and/or FBI tampering than of Oswald's guilt.
3. Did the commission demonstrate that Oswald fired a rifle on 11-22?
the commission admitted that they could not prove this point, the
answer is not only a "No" but that they had evidence suggesting the
opposite--that he had not fired a rifle on 11-22. Their failure to
properly examine and explain this evidence is inexcusable, and
suggestive of a prosecutor's bias. Or worse.
So, does all this lead me to believe Oswald did it, but that the Warren Commission was unable to effectively demonstrate as much? Did Oswald, in fact, shoot Kennedy?
If Oswald was clever enough to steal a large piece of paper from his work without being noticed, bring it home on his person without being noticed, wrap his rifle in this paper without being noticed, hide this package in the building without being noticed, sneak it up to the sixth floor without being noticed, put his rifle back together without being noticed, hit at least two shots on a moving target without any practice, and race back down to the second floor without being noticed, only to appear innocent and calm when confronted by a police officer, it makes little sense he'd be so un-clever as to use a rifle sent to his own PO box, under a fictitious name easily traceable to himself, and have an ID in this name on his person when captured. Something just doesn't add up. While the simplest answer is that Oswald acted alone and was a devious and unpredictable lunatic, simple answers are often fed to simpletons to stop them from asking not-so-simple questions.