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Oswald's rifle sling - an exercise in factoid-busting


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One of my hobbies is to examine from time to time little conspiracy factoids and see how they hold up under the scrutiny of someone with lawyerly research and analytical skills. Today I will share with you my work on Oswald’s rifle sling. A minor issue, but an instructive example of factoid-busting.

My interest in this esoteric topic was piqued by two recent blog entries by Bill Kelly (BK) at his JFKcountercoup site, http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2020/02/the-rifle-sling-ignored-clue.html and https://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2020/02/possible-usaf-sources-for-rifle-sling.html.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this issue, the leather sling on the rifle found on the sixth floor of the TSBD was distinctly different from the rope sling seen in the famed backyard photos. Oswald obviously replaced the rope sling sometime between the time the photos were taken, which was shortly after he had purchased the rifle, and the day of the assassination.

For many years, the sling was believed to have been fashioned from a camera strap, a guitar strap or some similar item.

In 2008, BK started a thread about the sling on this forum: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/topic/13354-the-sling/. The discussion dragged on at some length with no clear resolution. Thomas H. Purvis thought he had the solution and that Kelly’s concern was much ado about nothing, to wit:

 

When recovered at the TSDB, the rifle had a leather sling which also included a shoulder pad. This sling has been determined to have been military issue (Army Air Corps/AF) for a shoulder holster for carrying a pistol.

Any researcher can attend enough gun shown until such time as he will find one of these for sale as I have. There are quite a few of the identical shoulder straps with pistol case still out there in military surplus.

Since it would appear that there are those who do not wish to accept the "Correct" answer, might I highly recommend repeated attendance at Gun Shows across the US as well as visits to all US Army Surplus Stores which they can find.

Eventually, as I have, they just may find the exact same shoulder holster and shoulder strap(s) with which the Model 91/38 Short Rifle leather sling was created from.

Long before this – in 1975, in fact – Dr. John K. Lattimer had purported to have solved the mystery. In his 1980 book Kennedy and Lincoln, he included on page 297 the photo reproduced here. He credited someone named Leon Day with discovering that the sling is the “shoulder-harness strap of an obsolete type of U.S. Air Force pistol holster.”

slingmystery.thumb.png.6e0e9e4f122da39516eed405f017b9ec.png

This happens to be true, as far as it goes.

In BK’s 2020 blog entries, he states:

The so-called "contraption" that was at first dismissed as an ordinary guitar strap, is actually a very rare 1956 Milsco M13 Aircrewman holster sling, manufactured by the Milwaukee Saddlery Company and produced for the USAF 38 Aircrewman revolvers. [BK took this statement from an online ad. The holsters were also made by Service Manufacturing Company of Yonkers, NY.]

Not only are the Colt Aircrewman revolvers rare, but the sling is as well, going against the idea that such slings were commonly sold at Army and Navy Surplus stores and readily available.

and

Since the M13 sling did not come from Klines [sic], and was not mass produced and resold as surplus, but with it’s accompanying aluminum .38 revolver pistols that were ordered destroyed by the USAF, only a few have survived, less than 50, most of which are now in museums or were taken home by officers before the destruction notice was given. So a few may have been sold at Thrift shops or garage sales by the widows of Air Force SAC officers who were senior enough to take them home upon retirement before they were ordered destroyed.

Golly, that’s starting to sound pretty mysterious – is it not?

BK even works the nefarious Curtis LeMay into his discussion, stating that the Aircrewman revolver was “made specifically for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) under specifications requested by General Curtis LeMay.” BK then quotes in bold from a gun collector site: “That was the holster rig we had in SAC alert aircraft. They were locked in the combat mission boxes with the mission data. You normally only saw them if you were involved in the box inventory. Otherwise the box was locked and the boxcar sealed.”

Whoa! What innocent explanation could there be for Oswald having one of those?

In his second blog entry, BK engages in conspiracy-oriented speculation as to “possible USAF sources” for Oswald’s “very rare” rifle sling. In a nutshell, he revisits the Banister-Ferrie canard and ends up with the likely suspect being one “Colonel Lowrey (First Name Unknown and it could be spelled Lowry), who just happened to be the commander of ‘Looking Glass’ – a Command and Control post that was flying over Dallas at the very moment of the assassination.”

Oh, my God! The very moment of the assassination, I tell you!

BK’s entry is enthusiastically endorsed in a comment by Bill Simpich (BS) as “Absolutely fascinating.” BS speculates that the rifle was planted on the sixth floor and that the sling was attached because the conspirators who planted it “wanted to at least draw attention to the US Air Force – and probably as misdirection.”

Whoa again! It just gets better and better - does it not?

BK’s blog entries are full of authoritative-sounding statements that give the appearance of deep research, but in fact most if not all of them are from posts on gun and military forums that I also quickly located. (BTW, I spent two hours on this entire project.) Some are significantly wrong.

For example, BK states “Colt made just 1189 of these special aluminum snub nosed revolvers for the Air Force, 1,123 shipped from 1950-1952, some 255 sent to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in 1951.” True, but Smith & Wesson made 40,000 of them beginning in 1953. The guns from both manufacturers were dubbed the M13.

You can read authoritative articles about the guns at https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2016/10/6/america-s-military-revolvers/ and https://www.guns.com/news/2013/02/06/the-colt-aircrewman-special-the-all-aluminum-38-caliber.

The M13 was a lightweight, compact revolver intended primarily as a survival gun for downed pilots and air crews. It was a .38 with an aluminum alloy frame and cylinder and a steel barrel. Alas, its delicate construction required underpowered loads, and the gun was positively dangerous if regular .38 ammunition was used. In October of 1959, in light of what the USAF euphemistically called these "peculiarities," all the M13s were recalled and, as the USAF said, “mutilated to prevent further use as a weapon.” The carcasses were sold as scrap.

While M13 revolvers are indeed rare, there always seems to be a few on the market, at prices ranging from little more than $1000 to $10,000. See, e.g., https://www.jgsales.com/smith-wesson-usaf-m13-aircrewman-lightweight-revolver,-38-special,-4-barrel,-gss,-used,-s-w.-p-101778.html. The Colt version (1,189 made) would obviously be rarer than the S&W version (40,000).

Just so we’re clear, BK is suggesting that (1) Oswald’s sling was fashioned from the shoulder holster harness for a USAF M13 revolver; (2) the vast majority of the revolvers and harnesses were destroyed; and (3) the harnesses and holsters were not disposed of as surplus and were so "very rare" that Oswald must have obtained his from a USAF-affiliated source.

What about M13 holsters and harnesses – were they destroyed as well, as Kelly suggests? ("Why would they be?" you might ask, but let's not be impertinent.)

Kelly states, “The holster was designed by Norris Murray, US patent on the design granted in January 1958. From Dayton Ohio, Murray is believed to have been a civilian employee of the USAF at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, where Air Force One is now on public display at the museum.” He has copied this from many sources on the internet.

You will note on oddity: The M13 revolvers had been in use since 1951 and were recalled for destruction in October of 1959, but the holster design wasn’t patented until January of 1958?

Here is what I learned about Norris Murray: Norris N. Murray was employed in the U.S. Air Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson AFB in the 1950s.  On March 6, 1956, he applied for a patent for a “Universal Hand Gun Holder and Harness.” The novelty was that the invention “enables the holster to be worn as a shoulder holster, a waist belt or belt-line holster or as a low-slung holster.” There was no suggestion that the invention was specifically for the M13. Indeed, the term “Universal” suggests it was intended for wide application.

On January 14, 1958, Murray was granted U.S. patent number 2,819,830. He assigned the patent to “the United States of America as represented by the Secretary of the Army.” You can view the patent and the accompanying drawings at https://patents.google.com/patent/US2819830. The holster is discussed at pages 375 and 376 of a 1987 book by Edward Scott Meadows, U.S. Military Holsters and Pistol Cartridge Boxes (which I admittedly do not own, but I did find a blurry reproduction of those pages).

Norris Murray patent.pdf

(Murray had a couple of non-gun-related patents as well. I also learned that, according to the Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, CA) of May 10, 1961, “Norris N. Murray of Novato has won an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Air Research and Development Command at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. His work for the command is secret. Murray is a civilian employed by a division of Sierra Engineering Co., working on research and development in the aerospace project. He formerly was employed by H. Koch and Sons, Corte Madera.”)

The “Murray design” holster rig was clearly used for the M13, at least at some point in the later stages of the gun’s life. (It was presumably in use by 1956, when Murray applied for his patent.) But as Thomas H. Purvis suggested to BK back in 2008, shoulder holsters with slings that could have easily been adapted as rifle slings had been in use since World War 2. The problem is, those don’t look like the “Murray design,” and Oswald’s sling does. Here are a WW2 holster and a more recent M7 holster:

79608961_ArmyWWIIparatrooper.thumb.jpg.cabee59b80af35c38841c8a84193bb0d.jpg

195456127_Originalm7holster.jpg.461bb652286f68fed3ca0bbc557515a0.jpg

 

Here is the "Murray design" in shoulder holster configuration. You can see how it very much suggests that it might be fashioned into a rifle sling.

air-force-specialized-holster-m13_1_7eee2aaf3329057fcaf309863a0284da.jpg.f3f66742e2575bd6d0f20f4a82b8d0f9.jpg

Here is the M13 holster itself:

760172326_M13holster.jpg.074bcbcfc1844fde68a4edadb854ac23.jpg

But wait, the harness in Lattimer’s 1975 photo has the “Murray design” but the holster itself is clearly not an M13 holster! Compare them and see for yourself. Would it have made sense for the military to flush the “Murray design” a year and a half after the "universal" patent was issued just because the M13 was a dud? I found a few ads for harnesses referring to the “Murray design” stating that it was later used for other holsters, and the Lattimer photo pretty well establishes this.

I also found a 2009 post on a gun enthusiast site stating that the M13 flap holsters were also issued with the Model 10 with a 2” barrel in 1960 as well as the Model 56. (These were both Smith & Wesson revolvers.) https://forums.gunboards.com/showthread.php?99942-odd-USAF-M13-Aircrewman-holster.

Contra Kelly, my belief is that Oswald almost surely obtained the holster harness (or at least the shoulder strap) from which he made his sling as military surplus, probably for some nominal price that would square with his notorious cheapness. If the M13 guns were recalled and destroyed in October of 1959, it is hardly likely that the holsters and harnesses would have been "very rare" in 1963 if they had been released to the surplus market.

But were they released to the surplus market? Contra Kelly, indeed they were. I found them being advertised on gun forums from 2004 to 2013, 40 to 50 years after the assassination. If the harnesses were still being found in surplus then, do you seriously think they were “very rare” in 1963?

This from 2016 was the most expensive one I found ($400), but you can see why. Others were around $75.

I have a rare NOS (new old stock) 1956 Milsco (Milwaukee Saddlery Company) USAF M13 Aircrewman revolver holster/sling (produced in 1956 for the United States Air Force Smith & Wesson .38 Aircrewman revolvers).

Also included is the original 1956 Milsco box and the original string that was tied around the assembly when I removed it from the box.

Lee Harvey Oswald used a sling exactly like this on his 6.5 Carcano rifle that he allegedly used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

This was purchased from the estate of a man who owned a military surplus store in the 50s and 60s. This was part of his "old stock" and had been in storage for decades. I purchased the ONLY 4 from the estate. I will be keeping one for my Oswald Carcano clone, and will be selling the other 3 so a few other collectors can complete their LHO clone.

https://forums.gunboards.com/showthread.php?660649-WTS-Rare-1956-NOS-Milsco-M13-Aircrewman-Holster-Sling-amp-Original-Box-Oswald-JFK. (Weirdly, BK was pretty clearly aware of this post.)

From 2013:

"Kennedy/Oswald" Sling

I have posted a few of these on the Gun Boards Trader. M13 shoulder holster rig piece from Air Force military surplus out of Texas.

https://forums.gunboards.com/showthread.php?309527-quot-Kennedy-Oswald-quot-Sling. 

From 2009

Sling , type used on the "Oswald/Kennedy" Carcano rifle, original U.S. Air Force surplus out of Texas, section of the M7 shoulder holster rig Lee Harvey fashioned into a sling, hard-to-find piece, very good @ $75 ea delivered.

https://forums.gunboards.com/showthread.php?117096-WTS-quot-Oswald-quot-Carcano-Rifle-Sling. 

The 2009 poster had said in an earlier post that he had bought all of the surplus harnesses still available from “USAF surplus out of Texas,” and he apparently had enough that he continued to advertise them for years.

See also: “When the pistols intended for use with these holsters were withdrawn, the holsters were released to the military surplus market. The holsters still turn up occasionally, but rarely include the shoulder strap.” https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/jfk-kennedy-assassination-oswald-490976449. 

In short, the harnesses from which Oswald’s sling was fashioned were not destroyed with the M13 guns, clearly were released for sale as military surplus, were a universal design used with the holsters for other gun models, and were still available more than 40 years after the assassination. In 1963, potentially tens of thousands of them were available on the surplus market. This is probably why Purvis told BK in 2008 that he still often encountered them at gun shows. They are now “very rare” – even to the extent of replicas being widely produced and advertised – only because so many gun enthusiasts are trying to fashion their very own copies of Oswald’s rifle. (If you doubt this, check out a few gun enthusiast sites.)

There is absolutely no reason to hypothesize any mysterious origin for Oswald’s sling unless you are in the grip of conspiracy mania and hell-bent to put a conspiracy spin on every conceivable fact. BK's blog entries illustrate the Reverse Occam’s Razor that characterizes so much conspiracy thinking (“Regardless of its implausibility and absurd complexity, the explanation that will further a conspiracy theory is always to be preferred over one which the evidence, reasonable inferences and common sense might suggest to someone not in the grip of conspiracy mania”).

The problem is, conspiracy enthusiasts swallow every factoid from someone like BK or BS as though it were gospel. Without dubious factoids, the conspiracy community could scarcely survive. Indeed, precisely as BK and BS have done here, these baseless factoids then serve as the launching pads for all sorts of dark innuendo and speculation. Unless you’re just a mindless true believer, try this exercise for yourself – pick a couple of factoids that sound unlikely on their face and see how well they hold up to scrutiny. Eventually, the light of reason might dawn in your head.

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Oh good.  Astute lawyerly analysis on the MC rifle sling.  

Rather than gift us with such self-admitted “minor issue.... factoid busting,” perhaps you could instead demonstrate Oswald’s ownership of said rifle.

The sling matters little if Oswald owned neither the rifle nor the sling.

And matters even less if the rifle found was incapable of firing accurately in the state in which it was found.

Your continued presence here is in direct contradiction of your recent vow to make yours only an annual visit.

Yet here you remain, nibbling away at the irrelevant edges of a mystery you don’t think is mysterious.

Your condescending courtroom manner displayed here demonstrates your ego, not your “lawyerly research and analytical skills.”

Wouldn’t the time squandered here be more beneficially spent on ... oh, I don’t know.... billable hours?

 

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I agree Robert.

What is this guy doing here except being a T---L?

This time, at least he dispenses with that BS excuse about removing his avatar. 

Is he now going to scamper away again and say he resigned, but it took him a long time to get his avatar down?

Gary Mack used to do the same thing back in the day. I thought it was a mistake to let him get away with that stuff.

 

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Minor addendum: Why do there seem to be no photos or detailed descriptions of Oswald's revolver holster? Odd - I could do a lot with that mystery if I were in the grip of conspiracy mania.  Since his snub-nosed .38 would have been a nice match for an M13 holster, it would be a hoot if that's what it actually was - i.e., he bought the holster and, being a resourceful lad, made a sling out of the shoulder harness. I really can't tell from the backyard photos.

1 hour ago, Robert Charles-Dunne said:

Oh good.  Astute lawyerly analysis on the MC rifle sling.  

Rather than gift us with such self-admitted “minor issue.... factoid busting,” perhaps you could instead demonstrate Oswald’s ownership of said rifle.

The sling matters little if Oswald owned neither the rifle nor the sling.

The sling was the subject of two lengthy blog entries in February 2020 by Bill Kelly at JFKcountercoup.  Apparently he and Bill Simpich found it to be a significant issue. Perhaps you didn't actually read what I posted - am I right or am I right?

1 hour ago, James DiEugenio said:

I agree Robert.

What is this guy doing here except being a T---L?

Notice that every time Lance kicks butt, the conspiracy mavens and their minions have NO RESPONSE to the SUBSTANCE of what he has said? This must be at least the 20th time that I have exposed a conspiracy factoid, and all that flows from said factoid,  as utterly baseless.

I have actually come to conclude that conspiracy mania is the functional equivalent of pornography addiction. I mean that quite sincerely. I have no illusion of changing any minds at a place such as this. Unlike DVP, I have no interest in endlessly debating with you, any more than I have an interest in debating with a Scientologist. I have much better things to do with my time.

What I do - my little "thing" - is to occasionally very carefully and precisely point out that you are credulous conspiracy addicts and that the mavens you worship have no clothes. As Robert suggests, I do indeed amuse myself with these exercises. I do derive a certain amount of ego satisfaction. On the other hand, the SUBSTANCE of what I post speaks for itself - and YOU CAN'T HANDLE IT. You can't handle it because your analytical and critical-thinking skills have been lost to conspiracy mania.

I happened to stumble upon BK's blog entries last night - I can't even remember what I was Googling - and found them intriguingly bizarre. By the time I had investigated to my satisfaction, which took about an hour, the material cried out for factoid-busting. If I stumble upon another factoid worthy of being busted - it's not as though I go around looking for them - I will share the fruits of my labor with you. You're welcome.

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39 minutes ago, Lance Payette said:

Minor addendum: Why do there seem to be no photos or detailed descriptions of Oswald's revolver holster? Odd - I could do a lot with that mystery if I were in the grip of conspiracy mania.  Since his snub-nosed .38 would have been a nice match for an M13 holster, it would be a hoot if that's what it actually was - i.e., he bought the holster and, being a resourceful lad, made a sling out of the shoulder harness. I really can't tell from the backyard photos. ...

..... The sling was the subject of two lengthy blog entries in February 2020 by Bill Kelly at JFKcountercoup.  Apparently he and Bill Simpich found it to be a significant issue. Perhaps you didn't actually read what I posted - am I right or am I right?

Then perhaps you could argue the points with them.  The trouble with lone-gunman proponents is that they insist what one researcher believes, we must all believe.  By all means, amuse yourself.  You’re sure not adding any weight to either side of the case.  As for reading these materials, you are wrong.  Not only have I read them, I guarantee I did so before you were aware of their existence.  Because you have “better things” to do with your time.

 

45 minutes ago, Lance Payette said:

Notice that every time Lance kicks butt, the conspiracy mavens and their minions have NO RESPONSE to the SUBSTANCE of what he has said? This must be at least the 20th time that I have exposed a conspiracy factoid, and all that flows from said factoid,  as utterly baseless.

I have actually come to conclude that conspiracy mania is the functional equivalent of pornography addiction. I mean that quite sincerely. I have no illusion of changing any minds at a place such as this. Unlike DVP, I have no interest in endlessly debating with you, any more than I have an interest in debating with a Scientologist. I have much better things to do with my time.

But apparently you have NOTHING better to do with your time or you wouldn’t be here.  Can I suggest that if you have nothing more constructive to add to the debate, that maybe you debate Scientology with Ashton Gray?  For you, he might come back.

Or maybe debate your equation of patriots seeking answers to an unsolved crime with porndogs.  I’m sure everyone here will enjoy being called a porn addict by a lawyer who has “better things to do with (his) time” than post such things here.  You really have no self-awareness.

45 minutes ago, Lance Payette said:

What I do - my little "thing" - is to occasionally very carefully and precisely point out that you are credulous conspiracy addicts and that the mavens you worship have no clothes.

Yes, you “read so carefully and precisely” that you have consistently confused a man named Wheaton with a man named Weston.  And refused to acknowledge the obvious, even when corrected.  And then did it again.  My God what a legal powerhouse you must be.

45 minutes ago, Lance Payette said:

As Robert suggests, I do indeed amuse myself with these exercises. I do derive a certain amount of ego satisfaction. On the other hand, the SUBSTANCE of what I post speaks for itself - and YOU CAN'T HANDLE IT. You can't handle it because your analytical and critical-thinking skills have been lost to conspiracy mania.

The substance of what you post is replete with your own mistakes, such as making Weston into Wheaton.  But you think you’re the paragon of “critical thinking skills?”  You really have no self-awareness.

45 minutes ago, Lance Payette said:

I happened to stumble upon BK's blog entries last night - I can't even remember what I was Googling - and found them intriguingly bizarre. By the time I had investigated to my satisfaction, which took about an hour, the material cried out for factoid-busting. If I stumble upon another factoid worthy of being busted - it's not as though I go around looking for them - I will share the fruits of my labor with you. You're welcome.

Spare us.  You may recall the Warren Commission staffers were lawyers, and they split into two groups: those who didn’t do their jobs and failed to meet the challenge presented to them, and those who were diligent, and then disallowed from following their investigations.  As such, special pleading re: your legal prowess don't mean much here. 

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A few observations:

Is it really necessary for those that believe in the LN scenario to consistently act like condescending jerks? It accomplishes nothing.

I've never given any thought to the rifle sling, but since it has been brought up, why would a sling be necessary for a shot from a crouching position?

And also, you now have to add the sling to what was inside Oswald's paper bag, no?

 

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It's not really a sling.  It's a leash that Ruby kept him on.  Let's remember Rose said they'd been shackin up for years.  

All that hard to believe if LHO was living in Dallas the year before?

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9 hours ago, Matt Allison said:

A few observations:

Is it really necessary for those that believe in the LN scenario to consistently act like condescending jerks? It accomplishes nothing.

I've never given any thought to the rifle sling, but since it has been brought up, why would a sling be necessary for a shot from a crouching position?

And also, you now have to add the sling to what was inside Oswald's paper bag, no?

 

Good points Bill - surely, if the sling was still fixed to the "disassembled" rifle, it's only going to make it more awkward to reassemble the thing, what with getting it untangled etc.?

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13 hours ago, Lance Payette said:

I have actually come to conclude that conspiracy mania is the functional equivalent of pornography addiction.


Ah, so that is why you keep coming back.

 

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Whew! That was quite a flop, Lance. As usual you come in with your 6 guns blazing, eager to let those who've never heard you know who you are. Often your bravado sparks an edgy exchange where everyone takes the challenge here and focuses with various degrees of facility, sometimes maybe brilliance, sometimes ineptness on the area you chose.  At best you can occasionally show what a thin thread some of the widely accepted dogma here is based on.

But you're topic was boring and generated absolutely no interest leaving the only topic of discussion to be your condescending attitude and general self absorption, which became  a ready target for some merciless, but in just amount, character pummeling.   Perhaps you should have launched a trial balloon with Bill Kelley, since he was the inspiration for this. Through all your verbosity, I think there was one paragraph there, where  I thought your depiction was pretty good.

Usually my compatriots here readily feed trolls, and some times the discussion just degenerates into a food fight. But in aggregate they struck the perfect moral high ground, and let the trxxx to himself. I'm speaking of the rank and file. I'm  proud of their responses. I will agree with you that expecting to gain support by continually not calling someone by their rightful name is rather childish.

But this time, to use a saying of antiquity, you started out on a grand voyage and made it no further than the muddy bank.

Anyway, live and fight another day!

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