The famous backyard photos

The famous backyard photos

This year 60 years ago, the famous backyard photographs were made by Marina Oswald. The photos show her husband Lee Harvey Oswald standing in his backyard, with a holstered pistol strapped to his waist, holding a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and two communist newspapers, The Militant and The Worker. The authenticity of the pictures have always been the subject of discussion.

After police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald on suspicion of assassinating President Kennedy, they searched the Paine residence in Irving, Texas, where Marina Oswald had been living. Among the belongings, Dallas Police officials found a brown cardboard box containing personal papers and photographs, including two snapshot negatives of Oswald standing in his backyard. Highly incriminating pictures: the rifle he was holding appeared to be the one used to shoot Kennedy. 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. Marina immediately recognized the photo, that became Warren Commission Exhibit 133-A.

Proud of his new weapon
Lee and Marina Oswald lived in this upstairs apartment. This is the location in Google Maps (see the stairs on Streetview, wow!) and you can see my own picture of the house on the right (2013). Late in the afternoon, most likely on Sunday, March 31, 1963, Oswald descended the back stairs of this house, carrying his just purchased rifle. He was very proud of it. He handed his wife a camera and asked her to take pictures of him with the weapon, the revolver he already owned and the two left-wing newspapers, dated March 11 and March 24, 1963.

Diferent versions of the same picture
One of the photographs later appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in February of 1964, on the front page of the Detroit Free Press, and soon in various other publications. But what happened? The photo appeared to differ from publication to publication. In particular, details of the rifle differed. Why did they tamper the picture? Among lots of critics, the differences created suspicions that the photo was fake. Skeptics still continue 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. Are they right? And why in hell were multiple versions of the same photo circulating in 1964?

An explanation of the tampering
The explanation came later. According to experts, the variations (and accidental erasure of the sniper scope on some versions) were caused by photo editors, touching up the photo in different ways in order to heighten the contrast between dark and grey areas. A common practice in the publishing industry at the time, due to the limitations of the printing process. To disprove all speculations, the Select Committee on Assassination of the House of Representatives commissioned a panel of photographic experts in 1978, to study the photo. No evidence of tampering was found. The mysterious line across Oswald’s chin was determined to be a water spot. Read the complete paragraphs of the commission here. A few sentences:

Lyndal L. Shaneyfelt, an FBI photographic expert, performed an analysis on the two backyard prints. (…) Shaneyfelt examined them under magnification andnfound no characteristics of compositing or retouching. Initial public controversy regarding the authenticity of the backyard arose after copies of CE 133-A, which appeared to differ in detail from the original as well as from each other, particularly with respect to the configuration of the rifle, were published in Life, Newsweek and other news publications. He testified that the apparent variations in the magazine versions were caused by retouching, a common practice the reproduction of photographs for publication.

Case closed – but not to all people. Some still think something is wrong with this pictures. Watch, for instance, some movies on this subject on YouTube.

What do you think?

Below: me in the backyard, September 2013. You could walk straight into the garden. The house seemed deserted; the front door was open and the mess inside was unprecedented. An unkempt, smelly mess.

Perry Vermeulen

Author of two books related to the assassination of JFK, published in The Netherlands in 2008 and 2012. Wrote a lot about this subject; built this website in 2023 to accommodate all those different stories. I will continue to produce new articles on the case.

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