Lee Harvey Oswald’s Palm Prints

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Palm Prints.

 

The palm print is of major interest and that is because eventually Oswald’s palm print was linked to the rifle, but before it got to that it went through some interesting moves. I will share all my available information that I have managed to gather and my special thanks go to Malcolm Blunt for some of the documentation, Terry Martin for the scans of the hallway photographs. Also NARAMFFAARC and UNT. And additional research by Michael T GriffithHarold WeisbergHenry Hurt and David Lifton. Sylvia Meagher is one of the very first ones, in Dec. 1964, who writes about this.

The palm print cards.

There are two sets of Nov. 22nd palm prints known to me. Both signed by Hicks, and referred to as CE 735 & 736. A better quality set is also at the Malcolm Blunt archive in a FBI report from May 19 1978.

Then at UNT, the second set (left & right) is also signed again by Hicks and the images are referred to as the Commission Exhibits. This means that these photos come from the WC and are not reproductions from the DPD themselves. The black edging and numbering give that away. These sets are not originals.

These sets differ from each other once you check the annotations and the positions of the printed fingers of the palm prints in the photographic reproductions.

Carl Day and the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.

Taking a closer look at Carl Day and his statements about the alleged palm print lift. It was allegedly underneath the barrel and ‘protected’ by the wood stock. Day was the only person who handled the rifle.

Lieutenant Day is seen in this Helmer Reenberg compilation of various clips handling the weapon on the sixth floor of the TSBD, near the front entrance and inside the third floor corridor of the DPD. Below a set of photos of Day in the third floor corridor on his way to Room 317 of Robbery & Homicide which was Will Fritz’s office and where Marina Oswald was to be shown the rifle for identification. She was of no help to them. There are no reports of Marina positively identifying the rifle there and then.

In his W.C. testimony he explains where he found the print and what happened during the process of developing the palm print.

Mr. DAY. I took it to the office and tried to bring out the two prints I had seen on the side of the gun at the bookstore. They still were rather unclear. Due to the roughness of the metal, I photographed them rather than try to lift them. I could also see a trace of a print on the side of the barrel that extended under the woodstock. I started to take the woodstock off and noted traces of a palmprint near the firing end of the barrel about 3 inches under the wood-stock when I took the woodstock loose.
Mr. BELIN. You mean 3 inches from the small end of the woodstock?
Mr. DAY. Right–yes, sir.
Mr. McCLOY. From the firing end of the barrel, you mean the muzzle?
Mr. DAY. The muzzle; yes, sir.
Mr. BELIN. Let me clarify the record. By that you mean you found it on the metal or you mean you found it on the wood?
Mr. DAY. On the metal, after removing the wood.
Mr. BELIN. The wood. You removed the wood, and then underneath the wood is where you found the print?
Mr. DAY. On the bottom side of the barrel which was covered by the wood, I found traces of a palmprint. I dusted these and tried lifting them, the prints, with scotch tape in the usual manner. A faint palmprint came off. I could still see traces of the print under the barrel and was going to try to use photography to bring off or bring out a better print. About this time I received instructions from the chief’s office to go no further with the processing, it was to be released to the FBI for them to complete. I did not process the underside of the barrel under the scopic sight, did not get to this area of the gun.

Mr. BELIN. At what time did these same photographs which are the same as Commission Exhibit 720 and 721 of this print—-
Mr. DAY. About 8 o’clock, somewhere around 8 o’clock, in that neighbourhood.
Mr. BELIN. Of what date?
Mr. DAY. November 22, 1963.
Mr. BELIN. What about the lift which has previously been marked as Commission Exhibit 637?
Mr. DAY. About what?
Mr. BELIN. When did you turn that over to the FBI?
Mr. DAY. I released that to them on November 26, 1963. I did not release this—-
Mr. BELIN. You are referring now—-
Mr. DAY. On November 22.
Mr. BELIN. You are referring to Commission Exhibit 637?
Mr. DAY. Yes.
Mr. BELIN. Is there any particular reason why this was not released on the 22d?
Mr. DAY. The gun was being sent in to them for process of prints. Actually I thought the print on the gun was their best bet, still remained on there, and, too, there was another print, I thought possibly under the wood part up near the trigger housing.
Mr. BELIN. You mean the remaining traces of the powder you had when you got the lift, Exhibit 637, is that what you mean by the lift of the remaining print on the gun?
Mr. DAY. Yes, sir. Actually it was dried ridges on there. There were traces of ridges still on the gun barrel.
Mr. BELIN. Can you tell the circumstances under which you sent Commission Exhibit No. 637 to the FBI?
Mr. DAY. We released certain evidence to the FBI, including the gun, on November 22. It was returned to us on November 24. Then on November 26 we received instructions to send back to the FBI everything that we had.
Mr. BELIN. Did you do that?
Mr. DAY. Yes, sir; and at that time I sent the lift marked—-
Mr. BELIN. 637.

But then Day admits photographing the rifle again. He had another chance to photograph the rifle but did not bother about that all important lift again!

Mr. BELIN. I am now going to hand you No. 737 and ask you to state if you know what this is.
Mr. DAY. Yes, sir. This is the rifle found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository November 22, 1963.
Mr. BELIN. Who took that picture?
Mr. DAY. I took it myself.
Mr. BELIN. When?
Mr. DAY. About 9 or 9:30 p.m., November 22, on the fourth floor of the City Hall in my office.

Carl Day and the Mannlicher Carcano. Click to enlarge.

Day will not confirm for 100% that Oswald’s palm print is CE 637 without checking it first.

Mr. BELIN. Based on your experience, I will ask you now for a definitive statement as to whether or not you can positively identify the print shown on Commission Commission Exhibit No. 637 as being from the right palm of Lee Harvey Oswald as shown on Commission Exhibit 629?
Mr. DAY. Maybe I shouldn’t absolutely make a positive statement without further checking that. I think it is his, but I would have to sit down and take two glasses to make an additional comparison before I would say absolutely, excluding all possibility, it is. I think it is, but I would have to do some more work on that.

He is questioned about the palm print at the very end by John J McCloy and his statement is very telling.

Mr. McCLOY. Can you restate again for the record what you can positively identify in terms of fingerprints or palmprints and Oswald’s—-
Mr. DAY. The palmprint on the box he apparently sat on I can definitely say it is his without being in fear of any error. The other, I think it is his, but I couldn’t say definitely on a witness stand.
Mr. McCLOY. By the other, you mean the other palmprint?
Mr. DAY. The palmprint and that tracer print aside the trigger housing or the magazine housing.

In an FBI interview from Sept. 9 1964 J.C. Day states on page 4: It appeared probable these prints were from the right palm and fingers of Lee Harvey Oswald, but the rifle was released to the FBI, to be sent to Washington, D .C. before the examination was completed and positive identification of the prints could be made. The prints were not very good for comparison purposes.

Later on he states that after the palm print lift he only told Jessy Curry and Will Fritz about it that evening. He was not able to state the exact time of the discovery nor when he relayed the result to Curry and Fritz. He only knows it is prior Vincent Drain’s collection of the evidence. Yet Curry is asked about the fingerprints that same evening and Will Fritz early on the 23rd and both answered negative.

Hard to believe this as Fritz would have used this there and then since he had nothing that tied Oswald to the rifle at that time. On Dec. 23 1963 Will Fritz has a report made up about the evidence and the palm print is briefly summarised in it. All irregularities are swept under the carpet.

Carl Day and the Mannlicher-Carcano. Click to enlarge.

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In Carl Day’s HSCA interview on Oct. 18 1977 he states that Will Fritz ordered him to bring it downstairs and display it to Marina Oswald. Day could not understand whether she recognised the rifle or not. Only after his return to the fourth floor does he ‘discover’ part of a print on the metal bit underneath the barrel where it sits on the stock.

Will Fritz tells him twice to stop as the FBI is taking the rifle with them. No mention of Jesse Curry who was originally stated as the man who told Day to cease his work on the rifle.

He did not give the FBI the print lift as he thought the FBI would do a better job. When the rifle returns to Dallas, Day is disappointed that the FBI did not find the print on the barrel. And once the FBI requires the rifle to be sent back again. Day sent the print lift alongside with the rifle.

He did not make a positive ID with the print he lifted off the barrel as belonging to Oswald. He felt (!) it was Oswald’s, but would not have testified that it was, under oath without further examination.

 Henry Hurt for his book Reasonable Doubt interviewed Carl Day and Vince Drain in 1984 (page 109). Day remains adamant that the Oswald print was on the rifle when he first examined it a few hours after the shooting. Moreover, Day stated that when he gave the rifle to Agent Drain, he pointed out to the FBI man both the area where the print could be seen and the fingerprint dust used to bring it out. Lieutenant Day states that he cautioned Drain to be sure the area was not disturbed while the rifle was in transit to the FBI laboratory. Drain flatly disputes this, claiming that Day never showed him such a print. “I just don’t believe there was ever a print,” said Drain. He noted that there was increasing pressure on the Dallas police to build evidence in the case. Asked to explain what might have happened, Agent Drain stated, “All I can figure is that it [Oswald’s print] was some sort of cushion, because they were getting a lot of heat by Sunday night. You could take the print off Oswald’s card and put it on the rifle. Something like that happened.”

In First Day Evidence by Gary Savage & Rusty Livingstone Savage writes Captain Doughty came in at about 20:30 – 21:00 hrs and told Day to stop working on the rifle (p 108).

Also in the book, on page 108, “He then placed a strip of 2” scotch tape over the developed print and rubbed it down before finally lifting the tape containing the print off and placed it on a card. He said he then compared the lift to Oswald’s palm print card and was certain (!) that it was Oswald’s. He also said that after the lift, he could still see an impression of the palm print left on the barrel.

This is hard to believe when Day stated previously stated that he did not do such a thing.

Next, Lieutenant Day had intended to photograph the area of the rifle barrel from which the palm print lift had been made, but was again interrupted by Captain Doughty at about 10:00 pm. He was told once again to stop working on the gun and release it to FBI Agent Drain, who would arrive about 11:30 pm. Lieutenant Day did not have time to write any reports about what he had found, but did have time to reassemble the rifle before Drain arrived.

 So we have a third person entering the fold as to teling Day to stop working on the rifle! He is at first told by Will Fritz to cease working on the rifle, then Max Doughty tells him twice at 22:00 and then in a statement made by Day to the FBI (page 5) he said that the call from Jesse Curry to get the evidence ready for the FBI to collect came just before midnight! Curry btw makes no mention of this in any of his WC testimony.

Day said that a few days after the evidence was turned over, an FBI agent came to his house. He wanted too know when Lieutenant Day had lifted the palm print included in the evidence they had received because they had positively identified it themselves as Oswald’s palm print. Lieutenant Day got the impression that they had missed it and he could “envision J Edgar Hoover going into orbit.” (pages 109&110).

Lieutenant Day believed at the time that he had not completely obliterated the palm print on the barrel after his lift and later stated he had pointed out the area of the palm print to FBI agent Drain when turning the rifle over to him. Drain on the other hand did not recall being show the palm print (page 110).

 In this ARRB document from Dec. 19 1996 they question the course of the narrative regarding the palm print and the lack of contemporaneous evidence and wonder whether they should question Carl Day again.

 The FBI.

he FBI‘s Vincent Drain collects the rifle. Day and others reports state that he handed the rifle over to Drain at 23:45. This time is hard to accept as being correct. When Oswald speaks to the press at 00:15 he is still wearing his shirt. That shirt was part of the collection of evidence taken by Drain to Washington. Furthermore Henry Wade held a press conference after Oswald’s and Drain is seen standing next to Wade. The earliest Drain could have collected it and taken it away with him would have been 00:30.

The FBI (J Edgar Hoover) writes on Nov. 23rd to DPD Chief Jesse Curry and have found nothing. He states the following on page 7: The latent prints appearing in the photograph taken of the rifle K1, by the Dallas Police Department, are too fragmentary and indistinct to be of any value for identification purposes. Photographs of this weapon taken by this Bureau have failed to produce prints of sufficient legibility for comparison purposes.

After processing the rifle the FBI returns the rifle to the Dallas Police on Nov. 24. The FBI could not find anything, but the DPD produces a palm print lift four days after the evidence has travelled back and forth from Dallas to Washington already.

Then the evidence is turned back over to the FBI by Carl Day to Vincent Drain on Nov. 26th. And this time the palm print lift is included with the rest of the evidence. The official report by Day.

The FBI states in a report, titled “LATENT FINGERPRINTS EXAMINATIONS”, from Nov. 28 that fingerprints and palm prints have been discovered on certain items, but there is no mention of any found on the rifle.

On Nov 29. 1963 the rifle is back in FBI custody after it had been back in DPD custody from Nov 24.

In this report by the ARRB all rifle transporations are logged.

The FBI on Feb. 23 1964 questions the initial missing photographs of the palm print (page 2).

Sebastian Latona.

Sebastian Latona, who is the FBI’s supervisor of the latent fingerprint section of the identity division, in his WC testimony states the following about the quality of the weapon and its connection to fingerprints:

 

Representative BOGGS. Now, does a weapon lend itself to retaining fingerprints?

Mr. LATONA. This particular weapon here, first of all, in my opinion, the metal is very poorly finished. It is absorbent. Believe it or not, there is a certain amount of absorption into this metal itself. It is not finished in the sense that it is highly polished.

Representa’ive BOGGS. So this would be conducive to getting a good print, or would it?

Mr. LATONA. It would not.

Representative BOGGS. I see-because it would absorb the moisture.

Mr. LATONA. That’s right. Now, there are other guns-for example, Smith and Wesson, which have exceptionally nice finishes, the blue metal finishes are better surfaces for latent prints. Where you haye a nickel-plated or silverplated revolvers, where it is smooth-they are much more conducive to latent prints than some of these other things, say like the army type, the weapons used in wartime that are dull, to avoid reflection-things of that type-they are not as good.

Latona has various photographs taken of the rifle and also looks for any other prints.

So I made arrangements to immediately have a photographer come in and see if he could improve on the photographs that were taken by the Dallas Police Department. Well, we spent, between the two of us, setting up the camera, looking at prints,… highlighting, sidelighting, every type of lighting that we could conceivably think of, checking back and forth in the darkroom-we could not improve the condition of these latent prints. So, accordingly, the final conclusion was simply that the latent print on this gun was of no value, the fragments that were there. After that had been determined, I then proceeded to completely process the entire rifle, to see if there were any other prints of any significance or value any prints of value I would not know what the significance would be, but to see if there were any other prints. I completely covered the rifle.

Then he is asked whether he dusted the rifle himself.

Mr. EISENBERG. We will get other evidence in the record at a subsequent time to shon those were the prints of Oswald. Mr. Latona you were saying that you had worked over that rifle by applying a gray powder to it. Did you develop any fingerprints?

Mr. LATONA. I was not successful in developing any prints at all on the weapon. I also had one of the firearms examiners dismantle the weapon and I processed the complete weapon, all parts, everything else. And no latent prints of value were developed.

When it comes to the palm print Latona’s testimony confirms that they had no knowledge of it until seven days after the murder. They only knew of the trigger guard prints wrapped in cellophane. Nor did he see any trace of markings of a lifting on the gun.

Mr. EISENBERG. Now, Mr. Latona, as I understand it, on November 23, ‘therefore, the FBI had not succeeded in making an identification of a fingerprint or palmprint on the rifle, but several days later virtue of the receipt of this lift, which did not come with the weapon originally, the FBI did succeed in identifying a print on Exhibit 1303

Mr. LATONA. That is right.

Mr. EISENBERG. Which may explain any inconsistent or apparently inconsistent statements, which I believe appeared in the press, as to an identification?

Mr. LATONA. We had no personal knowledge of any palmprint having been developed on the rifle. The only prints that we knew of were the fragmentary prints which I previously pointed out had been indicated by the cellophane on the trigger guard. There was no indication on this rifle as to the existence of any other prints. This print which indicates it came from the underside of the gun barrel, evidently the lifting had heen so complete that there was nothing left to show any marking on the gun itself as to the existence of such even an attempt on the part of anyone else to process the rifle.

Mr. DULLES. Do I understand then that if there is a lifting of this kind, that it may obliterate—

Mr. LATONA. Completely.

Mr. DULLES. The original print?

Mr. LATONA. That is right.

Mr. EISENBERG. So that you personally,

Mr. Latona, did not know anything about a print being on the rifle which was identifiable until you received, actually received the lift, Exhibit 637?

Mr. LATONA. On the 29th of November.

Mr. EISENBERG. Seven days after the assassination. And in the intervening period, correspondicgly, the FBI had no such knowledge?

Mr. LATONA. As far as I know.

The WC and the FBI try to iron out the creases.

On Aug 28 1964 Wesley Liebeler reports to J Lee Rankin and mentions the Carl Day’s WC testimony and points out the issues regarding the lift of the palm print. He makes mention of FBI agent Sebastian Latona who makes contradicting statements about the barrel, the fingerprint powder, the prints and the lack thereof.

On Aug 28 1964 in a FBI document to Alan Belmont it is noted that the Warren Commission has some questions about the timing of the actual lift of the palm print. They also wonder aloud whether Day had taken actual photographs of the lift or the barrel and this is something he had not done.

In WC Exhibit 2637, a letter from J Edgar Hoover on Sep 4 1964 to J Lee Rankin. Hoover states that the attached photos of the palm print are the ones that were found under the barrel of the rifle.

In a DOJ document of Sep 11 1964 Day is mentioned as having lifted the palm print and that it belonged to Oswald. And that the FBI also tested it and came to the same conclusion. This record is based on the Sep 9 interview (see previous paragraph) of Carl Day by the FBI.

And when the Warren report is published the whole ‘discovery of the palm print’ is rubber stamped.

 

 

Related: Lee Harvey Oswald’s Fingerprints.