Dartmouth Researchers Authenticate Controversial Photo of JFK's Assassin


Image Credit: Warren Commission

Digital forensic experts say they have debunked one of the most pervasive conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Dartmouth College computer scientists write in the Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law that Lee Harvey Oswald’s famous “backyard photo” is, in fact, an authentic image. 

The photo—showing Oswald standing in a backyard holding a pair of Marxist newspapers and the same type of rifle used to kill Kennedy—ran on the front page of Life magazine in 1964, and has been fuel for numerous conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination. While in jail, Oswald himself claimed that the photo was a fake. Those who found the official account of Oswald’s solo mission implausible pointed to the man’s awkward stance in the photo, saying that the pose pictured is physically impossible.  

Image Credit: Hany Farid

Led by computer scientist Hany Farid, who has previously debunked the idea that the photo’s lighting and shadows are inconsistent, the Dartmouth team used 3D modeling to create an image of a figure standing exactly as Oswald was in the photo. They found that given Oswald’s weight (using a few different figures because that, too, is uncertain), the pose would have been stable, and not an implausible way to stand.

Since people love to debate conspiracy theories, the study's authors also note that 3D modeling can be a powerful forensic tool for determining the physical plausibility of other images as well.