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3D Model Showed Controversial Photo of John F. Kennedy’s Assassin Is Not a Fake

Doubts surrounded the incriminating photo since Kennedy was assassinated in 1963

Lee Harvey Oswald stands in his backyard with Marxist newspapers and a rifle. This photo has been looked on with suspicion ever since Oswald called it a fake after John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. (CORBIS)
smithsonian.com

From the moment John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, conspiracy theorists and skeptics have dissected the events of that fateful day. Now, 3D modeling has resolved a longstanding debate about an incriminating photo showing Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, with a rifle in his backyard. According to these new results, the photo is authentic.

Oswald Photo Recreation
After Oswald died, investigators and researchers from photographic companies like Kodak attempted to verify the authenticity of Oswald's photos and others related to the Kennedy assassination. This photo was used as evidence in the assassination case. (CORBIS)

The controversy over the photo stems from Oswald himself—he claimed it was fake even though it was taken by his wife. By the time the photo made it to the cover of LIFE Magazine in 1964, Oswald was dead.

In preparation for Oswald’s trial, researchers and reenactors attempted to determine whether photographic evidence of both the assassination and the assassin were valid. The Warren Commission, which investigated the circumstances surrounding the assassination, concluded that the photo shows Oswald with the same rifle used to shoot Kennedy. But doubts about everything from the shadows to Oswald’s pose have persisted ever since. 

3D Lee Harvey Oswald
Dartmouth researchers built and posed a physiologically plausible 3-D model of Lee Harvey Oswald to match his appearance in the famous backyard photo. Their analysis of the 3-D model revealed that although Oswald appears off-balance, his pose is stable. (Hany Farid)

Researchers from Dartmouth College hope they can put a stop to the speculation. A team of computer scientists used a special 3D model of Oswald to tackle one key portion of the tampering theory: That Oswald’s physical pose appears off-balance and thus must be faked. A balance analysis on the model showed that the stance is in fact stable, despite appearing off-kilter in the photo. Their results were published in The Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law.

The stability analysis isn’t the first time Hany Farid, the paper’s senior author, has tackled the infamous photo. Farid, who specializes in identifying digital and analog photo tampering, has done several other studies on the Oswald photo—each of which has proven that it’s legit.

He hopes that his work will help identify new ways to analyze photographs in a forensic setting. But there’s little chance his work will change minds of die-hard conspiracy theorists. Despite the evidence, more than 60 percent of Americans still believe that JFK’s assassination was a conspiracy. 

JFK Rifle
The Warren Commission eventually concluded that Oswald used the rifle in the backyard picture to shoot John F. Kennedy. (Bettmann/CORBIS)
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