Then and Now: The iconic Oswald backyard photo

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by SHELLY SLATER

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaashelly

WFAA

Posted on October 22, 2013 at 3:46 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 18 at 5:45 PM

DALLAS -- The picture of Lee Harvey Oswald standing in his backyard with a rifle isn't just a photograph.

It's evidence and perspective into the life of President Kennedy's assassin.

“It’s surreal to stand in the exact spot where history was made,” said former FBI analyst and JFK historian Farris Rookstool, standing in Oswald’s old backyard at 214 Neely Street.

Rookstool said Oswald's wife, Marina, took the photo that day, thinking her husband "had gone crazy" for wanting photos made like this.

“It's typical of a lot of killers. They want to have the last photographic documentation, which is a self-created illusion or portraying the image they want to maintain -- their legacy,” he said.

The day after Kennedy's assassination, police searched Oswald's belongings. They found copies of this photograph along with others and two negatives. The FBI considered it key evidence in the case.

“The backyard photo is the single most incriminating piece of evidence there is in existence,” Rookstool said.

Starting with the rifle.

“It directly links him to the rifle found in the book depository.”

Then the pistol.

“You can actually find the pistol on his hip he used on officer J.D. Tippit.”

In February 1967, Oswald's closest friend, George de Mohrenschildt, discovered an original, full-frame print in items he had placed storage. On the back, Oswald autographed the photo. It said, "to my friend, George."

“You could do a handwriting analysis on the back of the photo and determine it's Oswald, which they did. And you have Marina's writing on the back of the photograph 'Hunter After Fascists,' so now you have multiple parties, not just a police officer saying we found these photos of him holding the rifle,” Rookstool said.

And what about the quality of the photo? That plays a part, too.

Oswald worked for a photography plant in Dallas where investigators believe he printed this photo before his last day of work, as hints the date on the back, April 5, 1963.

“So he knew this was his last opportunity to have time in the dark room," Rookstool said. "This was printed by a higher-quality optics. The projection on the paper was printed full frame. It captured more detail in that photograph than any others in existence. That's how they know it's the original."

The original signed photo was subpoenaed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1977. For 11 years, it sat in a vault in the National Archives, until its rightful owner, Jeanne de Mohrenschildt, wanted it back.

Jeanne wrote Rookstool a letter asking for his assistance. so Rookstool forwarded the letter to the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Within a week, the original photograph showed up in the mail.

“This was the first time I was actually going to hold in my hands the original photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald, signed on the back by Oswald, that was given to her," Rookstool said. "It’s the equivalent of going to the National Archives and pulling out a national treasure."

An image that will forever be synonymous with the JFK assassination.

E-mail sslater@wfaa.com

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