Researchers Have Finally Disproved a Conspiracy Theory About This Famous Lee Harvey Oswald Photo

By Matt Novak on at

There’s a lot of speculation about who really killed President John F. Kennedy. Was it the Cubans? The mafia? The CIA? Or was it a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald? And if Oswald was just a patsy, as he claimed before he himself was killed, could his most famous image be a fake? Researchers have now shown through 3D modeling that the photo is almost certainly real.

People who claim that the assassination of JFK was a much broader conspiracy point to the photo below as being an obvious fake. Oswald is shown holding a Communist newspaper (he went to live in the Soviet Union for some time before returning to the US), and is both holding a rifle and wearing a pistol.

Conspiracy theorists have dissected the photo, pointing to everything from the shadows to the peculiar posture as evidence that the photo has been manipulated. Oswald himself even claimed the photo was fake; again, this was before he was killed by Jack Ruby. But Oswald’s wife, who said she took the photo, insisted it was real.

Researchers Have Finally Disproved a Conspiracy Theory About This Famous Lee Harvey Oswald Photo

As the Smithsonian notes, researchers at Dartmouth have now shown through 3D modeling that Oswald’s posture in the photo is perfectly natural and unexceptional:

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.

Researchers Have Finally Disproved a Conspiracy Theory About This Famous Lee Harvey Oswald Photo

Rendering from the The Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law

Their research has also shown that the shadows under Oswald’s nose, lip, and neck are easily explained by the light sources available in the photo. But conspiracy theories around this photo have existed for a long time, and this study is unlikely to appease the die-hard conspiracy theorists.

Researchers Have Finally Disproved a Conspiracy Theory About This Famous Lee Harvey Oswald Photo

Rendering from the The Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law

The 1973 docu-drama Executive Action insists that JFK’s assassination was a conspiracy involving a shadowy group of white supremacist-minded capitalists, the CIA and the FBI. And that film has an extensive scene where viewers see the photo in question being manufactured.

The photo in the film uses a look-alike at first, but one of the shadowy capitalists says “the face doesn’t look enough like him to pass muster with me.” So they decide to plaster Oswald’s face on a look-alike’s body.


But even that isn’t enough. “Give him a pistol with a holster, and a telescopic sight for the rifle too,” another in the evil group of conspirators tells the photo manipulator.

As I’ve said, this new research by a team at Dartmouth is unlikely to persuade hardcore conspiracy theorists—but if nothing else, it shows just how obsessed we are over a half century later with the assassination and possible conspiracy theories around Kennedy’s death. [Smithsonian]