I was surprised and irritated by the ringing phone. Surprised because it’s a private number known only to a few close friends and associates who know not to call me when I’m writing, and irritated because some stranger had breached my privacy and probably wanted to tell me all about a deer or elk he’d bagged last season. So I probably sounded pretty gruff when I answered the phone, but any such reservations vanished when the caller identified himself as an agent of one of those semi-secret federal agencies that the public seldom hears about and knows even less, people who can get any phone number they want, anytime, anywhere. It was the sort of call with voice to match-that immediately arrests your attention and makes you wonder what you might have done to have become a person of interest to such an agency.
After identifying himself and his agency, and confirming that I was indeed the Jim Carmichel he wanted to talk to, he went on to say that he and other persons in his group (whom he simply identified as “we” without giving any names) had read my recent article about left-hand bolt operation and wanted to discuss it further. So for the next several minutes, I repeated the details of the article. His occasional responses confirmed that he pretty well understood the mechanics of the process I described, with his final questions being about speed and accuracy. By then I had decided that he and his buds were probably only varmint shooters and had simply used their agency resources to get my number and chat about blasting prairie dogs. Accordingly, my impulse was to ask if he and his pals were planning a shoot, but his next question brought me up short and erased any doubts I may have had about the seriousness of his call.
“Mr. Carmichel, are you aware that Lee Harvey Oswald was left-handed?”
He need say no more, for in an instant, the scene in an upper story room of the Texas book depository replayed itself in my mind. With the forestock of his Carcano right-hand bolt action rifle rested on a window sill, or more likely a stack of book cartons, Lee Harvey Oswald, with the butt of his rifle against his left shoulder, performed a mirror image enactment of my operation of a left-hand bolt handle. Just as I had swiftly shifted from target to target without ever taking my eye from the scope, the crosshairs of Oswald’s telescopic sight never left his intended target as his right hand speed cycled the bolt of his rifle. His right hand made all the deadlier by a magazine fed repeating rifle that loaded a fresh cartridge with each stroke of the bolt handle.
The Texas book depository in Dallas. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Our conversation lasted a short while after that, but I was so flabbergasted by the impact of what I had just discovered that I have little memory of what was said. A left-handed Oswald could be a game changer for sure, but still there were questions to be answered. How did the caller and his agency know Oswald was left-handed, and could they prove it? And so long after the fact would it make any difference anyway. If so, why? Perhaps its primary impact would be on theories that despite his military training, Oswald was not skillful enough to make the shots he was alleged to have. But by using the technique I’ve described (and repeatedly demonstrated), it would have been relatively simple and easy, even with minimum practice.
Famous image of Lee Harvey Oswald holding his Carcano rifle in his backyard, along with two Marxist newspapers. This image was supposedly taken by his wife, Marina. Image courtesy of Biography.com
A possible disclaimer is a crucial scene in Killing Kennedy in which authors O’Reilly and Dugard describe Oswald raising the rifle to his right shoulder. Why did they say that? Had they researched Oswald enough to know for certain Oswald was right-handed or, more likely, simply a writer’s device to add dramatic action to a scene, but in reality based only on an innocent but unfounded presumption? It’s a question worth asking. But what if, by chance, they had some reason to investigate Oswald’s right or left handedness. And what if they had discovered that he was left-handed: would they have made the critical connection? Probably not is my guess. Which is why I ended the first part of this blog with the declaration that they had their chance and missed it, and the story would have to be told by someone else.
And now you know the rest of the story.