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The Second Oswald: The Case for a Conspiracy Theory

Another piece of evidence that seems to be something different from what the Commission supposed is the brown paper bag found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository. This is the bag that, according to the Commission, was made by Oswald on the night of November 21-22 at Irving, and used by him to bring the rifle into the Book Depository. As Weisberg neatly shows (Whitewash, pp. 15-23), there are problems with all the information about the bag. First of all, both Marina Oswald and Wesley Frazier (who drove Oswald to Irving) report that he had nothing with him on the evening of the 21st (24:408 and Marina’s interview on November 23). The Commission was sufficiently worried on this point to recall Frazier and to ask him if at some earlier time Oswald had paper with him, to which he answered, “No” (7:531).

Next, the only two people who ever saw the bag, Frazier and his sister, described a bag around 27-28 inches, whereas the found bag is 38 inches long. Both Frazier and his sister described it by referring to its position when Oswald carried it, its appearance, and where it was located in the car; all these gave results of around 27 inches. (The longest part of Oswald’s rifle, when disassembled, is 34.8 inches.) Oswald is described as first carrying the bag with his arm down, and not dragging it on the ground; later he is said to have carried it cupped in his hand, and tucked in his armpit. Both descriptions are applicable only to a bag approximately 27 inches long. (If Oswald, who was five foot nine, had carried a 38-inch bag cupped in his hand, it would have extended above his shoulder to ear level, a length that Frazier might have been expected to remember.) Despite serious efforts to get Frazier and his sister to change their estimate of the bag’s size, they stood fast; and when one of them made a bag for the Commission that was supposed to approximate the original, it turned out to be about 27 inches long (24:408). The Commission nonetheless decided Frazier and his sister were correct about seeing Oswald with the bag, but incorrect in their description of it.

A further fact is that on the night of the 22nd, when Frazier first described the bag and estimated its size (about 2 feet), he was given a lie detector test which showed “conclusively that Wesley Frazier was truthful, and the facts stated by Frazier in his affidavit were true” (24:293). When Oswald entered the building, no one saw him with the bag. A Mr. Dougherty saw him enter and stated that he carried nothing, although a long bag should have been noticeable (6:376-77).

THE NEXT THING KNOWN is that a bag 38 inches long was found near the notorious sixth-floor window. This bag was made from paper and gummed tape, in the building. It has four very noticeable folds, but no indication of having been held on the top, as Frazier’s sister saw it. It has one identifiable fingerprint and one identifiable palm print, both Oswald’s. Also, as the FBI expert, Cadigan, testified, it contained no chemical or physical evidence of ever having contained a rifle. No oil or rifle debris, no distinctive marks of the rifle’s location in it (4:97). Asked to comment on the absence of marks, Cadigan said, “‌if the gun was in the bag, perhaps it wasn’t moved too much.” But the Frazier-Randle descriptions show it had been moved a good deal. Besides being carried, it was bounced around on the back seat of Frazier’s car.

The final problem, which only Weisberg seems to have noticed, is that, according to expert testimony, the found bag is put together with tape from the Book Depository’s dispenser, cut by this machine. The machine operator, Mr. West (6:356-63), indicated he was always at the machine and never saw Oswald use it. But, and this is crucial, tape could only be removed from and cut by the dispenser if it were wet. The tape came out of the dispenser dampened by a sponge. Oswald could only have gotten dry tape out of it by dismantling the machine, but then it would not have been cut by the machine. So the conclusion seems to be that Oswald removed a wet piece of tape, three feet long. How could he have carried it to Irving and then used it to make a bag? If the machine operator’s description is correct, the bag would have to have been made in the Book Depository.

When? According to the Commission, on the 21st; and then he returned on the 22nd. But there would still be the conflict about its size between the found object and the testimony of the two observers. Weisberg presents all the discrepancies, but does not see what this can lead to except that the Commission’s case is shaky. The only explanation, however, that seems to remove the conflict is that there were two bags, the one Frazier and Randle saw (which could have been a large supermarket bag) and the bag that was found. This could have been a deliberate effort on Oswald’s part to sow confusion. The bag that was seen could have been disposed of just before Oswald entered the Book Depository (there are lots of rubbish bins at the back entrance, full of paper). Then, during the morning of the 22nd, the bag that was later found could have been manufactured to fit the dimensions of the gun. The bag was happily left in view near the alleged scene of the crime. A careful criminal could obviously have hidden it (along with the three shells). Its presence, like that of bullet No. 399, implicates Oswald. It has his prints and is large enough to have held the gun. Frazier and his sister can supply another link, and Oswald becomes the prime suspect.

If I am right that the bag that was found and the one that was seen are different, this means the rifle entered the Book Depository at a different time from Oswald’s entrance on November 22, and that there was genuine premeditation in Oswald’s actions, to the extent of fabricating evidence that would mislead the investigators.

The bag and bullet No. 399 suggest that more was going on than the Commission recognized. There are many, many discrepancies in the evidence and in the Commission case. The critics have made much of these unanswered questions (and Weisberg’s book is probably the best present collection of them, though they are often stridently overstated). All of this, however, usually builds up to a big “So what?” since the critics still have not been able to present a reasonably plausible counter-explanation of what could have happened. Why, for example, should Oswald have tried to implicate himself as the assassin? I shall try to suggest why in what follows.

THE TWENTY-SIX VOLUMES contain numbers of strange episodes in which people report that they saw or dealt with Oswald under odd or suggestive circumstances: for example, that Oswald was seen at a rifle range hitting bulls eyes; that he and two Latin types tried to get financing for illegal activities from Mrs. Sylvia Odio; that Oswald tried to cash a check for $189 in Hutchison’s Grocery Store. These instances, and there are many of them, were dismissed by the Commission (though it continued to consider them up to the very end) principally on the grounds that they occurred when Oswald apparently was not there, or they involved activities Oswald reportedly did not engage in, such as driving a car. Of course it is not uncommon for false reports of identification to turn up during a much-publicized criminal investigation. However, in many of the cases dismissed by the Commission, the witnesses seem reliable, and have no discernible reason for telling falsehoods so far as one can judge; they seem to be, in the Commission’s over worked term, “credible.” For example, Bogard, a car salesman, reported that on November 9, 1963, a customer came in to his showroom, gave his name as Lee Oswald (and, of course, looked exactly like the late Lee Harvey Oswald), went driving with him and told him that he (Oswald) would come into a lot of money in a couple of weeks. Not only did Bogard have the corroboration of his fellow employees and an employee’s wife, but he was also give a lie-detector test by the FBI. The FBI reported on February 24, 1964, that “the responses recorded were those normally expected of a person telling the truth” (26:577-78). When the Commission had just about concluded its work, somebody still worried about this, so on September 12, 1964, the FBI was asked what questions Bogard had been asked. The FBI replied that he was asked if his story was true; if Oswald had been his customer (26: 682). All one can say is that by normal standards of credibility, the FBI had established, both through finding corroborating witnesses and by its polygraph test, that Bogard was a credible witness. Nevertheless, the Commission had satisfied itself from other testimony that (a) Oswald didn’t drive, and (b) he spent November 9th in Irving, writing a strange letter to the Soviet Embassy.

Cases such as the Bogard episode, varying in their degrees of confirmation and reliability, have attracted the attention of critics from the time of Leo Sauvage’s article in Commentary in the spring of 1964. They stirred rumors in the press from late November 1963 onward. If these cases could not have actually involved Oswald yet seem actually to have happened, then what? The Commission chose to dismiss them since Oswald could not have been the person in question. Leo Sauvage suggested someone was trying to imitate Oswald, that there was a second Oswald. Critics have brought up the second Oswald as an insufficiently explored phenomenon that might throw light on the case.

BUT WHY A DUPLICATE OSWALD? The Commission picture of Oswald is that of a pretty trivial individual, of no significance until November 22, 1963. But the cases suggesting that duplication occurred begin at least as early as September 25, 1963, the day Oswald left for Mexico, when a second Oswald went into the office of the Selective Service Bureau in Austin, Texas, gave his name as Harvey Oswald, and wanted to discuss his dishonorable discharge. Yet Oswald at this time was riding a bus toward Mexico. (See Report, 731-33.)

Some have suggested that the point might have been to frame Oswald, but only a few instances of this kind seem to have any relevance to such a goal. I would suggest that the cases of apparent duplication can be classified into two distinct groups, according to the times when they took place. Rather than dismiss them, I suggest that it is more plausible to interpret them as evidence that Oswald was involved in some kind of conspiracy which culminated in the events of November 22, when the duplication played a vital role both in the assassination and the planned denouement (and may have been the reason for Tippit’s death). Although the hypothesis of a second Oswald must necessarily be tentative and conjectural at this stage, I would suggest that it can resolve a large number of troubling problems concerning the assassination and provide a more plausible explanation of the case than that offered by the Commission.

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