by Pat Speer
On Page 964 of Reclaiming History, as part of his list of evidence proving Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy, Vincent Bugliosi states:
"Dallas Police performed a paraffin test on Oswald's hands at the time of his interrogation to determine if he had recently fired a revolver, and the results were positive, indicating the presence of nitrates from gunpowder residue on his hands."
This statement is incredibly deceptive. By including this statement in his list, Bugliosi is clearly suggesting that this evidence is indicative of Oswald's guilt, even though he readily admits 800 pages earlier that "the paraffin test is not conclusive...mere handling of a weapon may leave nitrates of the skin, even without firing it." (p. 164) Even worse, when one looks at the results of another test, performed on the paraffin casts of Oswald's cheek, one can only conclude they suggest that Oswald did not fire the shots that killed Kennedy. You see, while the tests of Oswald's hands were positive, the tests for Oswald's cheek were negative. This suggests that he did not fire a rifle on November 22, 1963.
Bugliosi tries to tackle this problem. In a footnote on page 165, Bugliosi states "Predictably, the paraffin cast for Oswald's right cheek showed no reaction." Predictably? He explains by asserting that there is no gap through which residue from a rifle could leak onto the cheek. He then cites the Warren Commission testimony of FBI Special Agent Cortlandt Cunningham to support this supposition. On page 79 of his endnotes (available on a separate cd-rom) he acknowledges that former FBI agent William Turner reported that he'd spoken to Dr. Vincent Guinn about tests performed by Guinn, and that Guinn had found nitrates in abundance on casts of the cheeks of men who'd fired rifles like the one owned by Oswald. Bugliosi dismisses Turner's assertion, however, essentially calling him a liar, by stating "There is simply no way to square this with the testimony and experience of the Dallas Police and FBI." Bugliosi then explains that two Dallas Police officers testified that they didn't think a test of the cheek would read positive for a man firing a rifle, and that Cunningham testified that an FBI agent had fired the rifle three times but that tests for his cheek had come up negative. Bugliosi begs of his readers "Why in the world would these two Dallas officers lie under oath about something like this?" and that "No one could really believe this is perjured testimony, if for no other reason that no professional would lie under oath on a matter that he knows other experts could easily refute him on." (endnotes, p. 80)
But what Bugliosi misses, or simply chooses to ignore, is that these men were discussing the standard paraffin test performed in the 1960's, and that Turner asked Guinn about a different test entirely involving neutron activation analysis of the paraffin casts. Bugliosi, who elsewhere cites conversations with Guinn, never mentions discussing this with Guinn himself, nor of Guinn denying that he'd conducted such tests. He never mentions that, as exposed in Professor Gerald McKnight's Breach of Trust, Guinn called the FBI in 1964 suggesting they conduct these tests (McKnight, Breach of Trust, p.211) and that, per the testimony of the FBI's John Gallagher—the last testimony taken by the Warren Commission—the FBI had indeed conducted neutron activation analysis on the paraffin cast of Oswald’s cheek.
It seems more than a coincidence that Bugliosi keeps the results of this test from his readers Gallagher testified that there was more gunshot residue on the outside of the paraffin cast than on the side exposed to Oswald’s cheek and that he could therefore reach no conclusion as to whether Oswald had fired a rifle. He stated furthermore that “I found that there was more barium and antimony on the inside surface of the cast than you would find on the cheek of an individual who had recently washed his cheek” without explaining why anyone should assume Oswald had just washed his cheek. (While the casts had reportedly been washed, nothing was offered to substantiate that rinsing a wax cast would have nearly the effect on the levels of residue as Oswald’s washing his face.) (15WH751)
This unexpected result, which suggests that the gunshot residue levels were too low to conclude Oswald had recently fired a rifle, becomes even more intriguing when one considers that researcher Harold Weisberg, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, received the controls for this test and found that gunshot residue was always present on the cheeks of those firing a rifle like Oswald’s (Weisberg, Post Mortem, p. 437). These controls, moreover, confirmed what Guinn had told the FBI in his phone call, (the FBI document describing this phone call is listed in McKnight’s book as R.M Jevons to Conrad 2/27/64 memo), what Guinn told an August 1964 conference (Lane, Rush to Judgment, p. 153), what Guinn published in an October 1964 article in the Journal of the Forensic Science Society (p. 189), and what Guinn later told Turner (Turner, Invisible Witness, p. 76).
Also of significance is that, unlike the paraffin tests originally performed on Oswald, the Neutron Activation Analysis performed by Gallagher only gained in respectability in the years following the assassination (Scientific Evidence in Criminal Cases, 1986, p.255), and is considered to be a reliable indicator of whether a suspect has fired a rifle. Larry Ragle, a retired Director of Forensic Sciences for Santa Ana, California, in his 1995 book Crime Scene, explains: “By design, revolvers can leak…Rifles, depending on their construction and wear, can also leak. There is only one way to determine the leakage capacity of any weapon and that is to collect samples from the hands or face firing the weapon under controlled conditions while using the corresponding ammunition.” (Ragle, Crime Scene, p. 172) Of course, this is precisely the kind of test performed by Guinn and Gallagher in 1964.
In sum, the gunshot residue tests conducted by Guinn and Gallagher create real doubt that Oswald fired the rifle found in the Book Depository. Rather than acknowledge this, Bugliosi dismisses these tests as a William Turner pipe dream. That he is outraged that anyone might think FBI agent Cortlandt Cunningham a liar, while simultaneously implying that William Turner—a man who left the FBI after he'd had enough of J. Edgar Hoover's misuse of the agency—is a liar, is outrageous. Perhaps Bugliosi's blind hatred of all suggestions of Oswald's innocence has blinded his thinking. In any event, his research simply can not be trusted.
For more information on the paraffin tests and their significance, see chapter 4 at patspeer.com.
See also Pat Speer's blog on Vincent Bugliosi's book, Reclaiming History from Reclaiming History.