After police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald on suspicion of assassinating President Kennedy, they searched his home and found a picture of him standing in his backyard. In one hand he held a rifle, in the other copies of two communist newspapers, The Militant
and The Worker
. His wife, Marina, said she had taken the photo in the Spring of 1963. The photo was considered highly incriminating because the rifle he was holding appeared to be the one used to shoot Kennedy.
The photo was made public in late February 1964, simultaneously appearing on the cover of Life
magazine and on the front page of the Detroit Free Press
. Within days it had appeared in many other publications. But sharp-eyed observers noticed that the photo appeared to have been tampered with since details differed from publication to publication. In particular, details of the rifle differed. For instance, in the version that appeared on the cover of Life
(top) Oswald's rifle had a sniper scope. But in the version that ran in the Detroit Free Press
(bottom), the sniper scope was gone. The Detroit Free Press
version reappeared two weeks later in Newsweek
These differences created suspicions that the photo was fake. Oswald himself, when shown the photo in jail, claimed he had never seen it before and insisted someone had superimposed his head onto another body. However, the photo was real. The variations (and accidental erasure of the sniper scope) were caused by photo editors touching up the photo in different ways in order to heighten the contrast between dark and grey areas. This was a common practice in the publishing industry at the time, due to the limitations of the printing process.
This explanation did not satisfy all skeptics, some of whom continued to argue the photo was fake, noting apparent inconsistencies in the shadows, conflicting body proportions, and a strange line across Oswald's chin suggesting the head may have been pasted into the photo.
In 1978 the Select Committee on Assassination of the House of Representatives commissioned a panel of photographic experts to study the photo. Their examination included microscopic analysis of the photo, as well as photogrammetric comparison of Oswald's face to other photos of him (including two other photos taken in his backyard). No evidence of tampering was found. The mysterious line across Oswald's chin was determined to be a water spot.
Links and References
• Life. (Feb. 21, 1964).
• "A Big Sale." (Mar 2, 1964). Newsweek.
• "Photograph of Oswald With Rifle." (1964). in The Official Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
. Doubleday & Company, Inc: 125-128.
• Brugioni, Dino. (1999). Photo Fakery: 82-83.
• Oswald Backyard Photos -- Gene Roberts
, The Education Forum.