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Adam Wilkinson

Oswald backyard photos - Gene Roberts

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I just thought I would share an interview I conducted with Gene Roberts over email.

A March 2, 1964 article in Newsweek Magazine claimed that Gene Roberts had purchased a number of photographs of Oswald on behalf of the Detroit Free Press. The negative of one of these photographs has never been located or analysed, so I asked Gene the following questions:

1. Who sold you these photographs?

2. What photos were included in the purchase?

3. Did the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations ever try to contact you to reacquire these photos?

4. Do you know what became of these photos?

Here is his answer for any researcher who may be interested:

The photographs you asked about came from the files of the district

attorney’s office in Dallas. The DA got them from the FBI. They were the

same photographs that were given to the Warren Commission.

The photographs included the well known photograph of Oswald holding a

rifle in one hand and The Worker, the Communist Party newspaper from New

York, in the other; photocopies of Oswald’s identity cards, some with

aliases and others in his own name; and some family photos, as I recall.

I don’t remember the exact number, but there were possibly as many as 25

or 30. Almost all of the photographs were later made public, but at the

time they were new to the reading public.

No negatives were involved, only copies of photos and documents in the

FBI files. The FBI made them available to the Dallas DA to aid in the

prosecution of the Jack Ruby case. I correctly guessed this might happen

and made every effort to cultivate people in the DA’s office in the hope

that I might get access to the files. One employee of the DA made the

files available to me from 8 p.m. on a Saturday night to 8 a.m. on

Sunday morning, a 12-hour period when the employee did not think anyone

would be in the DA’s office. I hired an experienced photo lab person to

photocopy the file during the 12-hour period. I stayed with him during

the entire copying process and he provided me with two copies of every

photo and document in the file.

I had planned to route each set of copies on different airlines from

Dallas to my newspaper at the time, the Detroit Free Press in Detroit,

Michigan But I was so sleep-deprived that when I arrived at the

Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Sunday at about 9 a.m., I failed to make my

instructions clear and both sets of photographs were routed on the same

flight to Detroit. Because of weather conditions – or mechanical

problems, I can’t remember which – the plane was grounded in New Orleans

for several hours.

Panic developed at the Free Press, which wanted the photos in time for

the first edition of the Monday paper, which had a 6 p.m. deadline on

Sunday. We knew that Life magazine had access to some of the photos and

would start appearing at newsstands about noon on Monday. We wanted to

beat them to the punch.

As the deadline approached, editors in Detroit asked me to describe the

pictures and estimate the size of each photo that would be on page one.

With this information, the paper set the type for the front page and

made the page with holes for the pictures.

The plane arrived in Detroit about 30 minutes before deadline on Sunday

at the Detroit airport, which was about 30 minutes by car from the Free

Press building. My editor, Derrick Daniels, had motorcycles waiting on

the tarmac to speed the photos to the newsroom, where he had photo

editors and airbrush artists waiting to expedite the photos into the

paper. In 1964, engraving processes were not as sophisticated as they

later became, and it was commonplace to airbrush photos with white

liquid chalk to heighten the definition between dark and gray areas in

photographs. In the haste to get the photos in the paper, an airbrusher

covered the sniper scope (on the rifle Oswald was holding along with The

Worker paper) with liquid chalk.

Our paper was indeed available several hours ahead of Life. But when

Life appeared on newsstands, its photo of Oswald with The Worker paper

had a sniper scope. The Free Press photo did not. Armchair detectives

around the world found this to be highly suspicious.

But the Life and Free Press photos were both copies of the very same

photograph. Because airbrushers use liquid chalk that can be scratched

away with a fingernail, you could easily determine that the photographs

were the same. The apparent discrepancies of the photos have been

mentioned several times over the years in books and articles, creating a

mystery where none really existed. Had anyone taken the time to visit

the morgues (libraries) of the two publications, they could have seen

that the photos were the same.

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I just thought I would share an interview I conducted with Gene Roberts over email.

A March 2, 1964 article in Newsweek Magazine claimed that Gene Roberts had purchased a number of photographs of Oswald on behalf of the Detroit Free Press. The negative of one of these photographs has never been located or analysed, so I asked Gene the following questions:

1. Who sold you these photographs?

2. What photos were included in the purchase?

3. Did the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations ever try to contact you to reacquire these photos?

4. Do you know what became of these photos?

Here is his answer for any researcher who may be interested:

The photographs you asked about came from the files of the district

attorney’s office in Dallas. The DA got them from the FBI. They were the

same photographs that were given to the Warren Commission.

The photographs included the well known photograph of Oswald holding a

rifle in one hand and The Worker, the Communist Party newspaper from New

York, in the other; photocopies of Oswald’s identity cards, some with

aliases and others in his own name; and some family photos, as I recall.

I don’t remember the exact number, but there were possibly as many as 25

or 30. Almost all of the photographs were later made public, but at the

time they were new to the reading public.

No negatives were involved, only copies of photos and documents in the

FBI files. The FBI made them available to the Dallas DA to aid in the

prosecution of the Jack Ruby case. I correctly guessed this might happen

and made every effort to cultivate people in the DA’s office in the hope

that I might get access to the files. One employee of the DA made the

files available to me from 8 p.m. on a Saturday night to 8 a.m. on

Sunday morning, a 12-hour period when the employee did not think anyone

would be in the DA’s office. I hired an experienced photo lab person to

photocopy the file during the 12-hour period. I stayed with him during

the entire copying process and he provided me with two copies of every

photo and document in the file.

I had planned to route each set of copies on different airlines from

Dallas to my newspaper at the time, the Detroit Free Press in Detroit,

Michigan But I was so sleep-deprived that when I arrived at the

Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Sunday at about 9 a.m., I failed to make my

instructions clear and both sets of photographs were routed on the same

flight to Detroit. Because of weather conditions – or mechanical

problems, I can’t remember which – the plane was grounded in New Orleans

for several hours.

Panic developed at the Free Press, which wanted the photos in time for

the first edition of the Monday paper, which had a 6 p.m. deadline on

Sunday. We knew that Life magazine had access to some of the photos and

would start appearing at newsstands about noon on Monday. We wanted to

beat them to the punch.

As the deadline approached, editors in Detroit asked me to describe the

pictures and estimate the size of each photo that would be on page one.

With this information, the paper set the type for the front page and

made the page with holes for the pictures.

The plane arrived in Detroit about 30 minutes before deadline on Sunday

at the Detroit airport, which was about 30 minutes by car from the Free

Press building. My editor, Derrick Daniels, had motorcycles waiting on

the tarmac to speed the photos to the newsroom, where he had photo

editors and airbrush artists waiting to expedite the photos into the

paper. In 1964, engraving processes were not as sophisticated as they

later became, and it was commonplace to airbrush photos with white

liquid chalk to heighten the definition between dark and gray areas in

photographs. In the haste to get the photos in the paper, an airbrusher

covered the sniper scope (on the rifle Oswald was holding along with The

Worker paper) with liquid chalk.

Our paper was indeed available several hours ahead of Life. But when

Life appeared on newsstands, its photo of Oswald with The Worker paper

had a sniper scope. The Free Press photo did not. Armchair detectives

around the world found this to be highly suspicious.

But the Life and Free Press photos were both copies of the very same

photograph. Because airbrushers use liquid chalk that can be scratched

away with a fingernail, you could easily determine that the photographs

were the same. The apparent discrepancies of the photos have been

mentioned several times over the years in books and articles, creating a

mystery where none really existed. Had anyone taken the time to visit

the morgues (libraries) of the two publications, they could have seen

that the photos were the same.

This is a cover story. Hugh Aynesworth obtained a copy from the

police and sold it, according to researchers. The district attorney had

nothing to do with it.

Jack

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This is a cover story. Hugh Aynesworth obtained a copy from the

police and sold it, according to researchers. The district attorney had

nothing to do with it.

Jack

I'm not so sure, Jack. I think Adam was able to get the real deal. I don't see Roberts, a former editor of the New York Times, making up a story that involves him illegally copying evidence in the DA's office, just to cover Hugh Aynsworth's fanny. Since Roberts doesn't go out of his way to say no money was exchanged between him and this DA employee, and since the Newsweek article specifically said there was money involved, I take it as an acknowledgement that money was indeed exchanged. I see no reason to think Roberts would admit so much just to protect Aynsworth.

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