The Long Brown Bag

Did Lee Harvey Oswald Bring a Rifle Into the Depository Concealed in a Long Paper Bag?

By Magen Knuth
One of the key pieces of evidence in the Warren Commission Report was a brown paper bag supposedly found on the six floor of the Depository. It was 38 inches long and marks on the inside consistent with a rifle. The Commission claimed that this bag was used to conceal the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that Oswald brought with him to work on the morning of November 22, 1963.

The original bag is now in the National Archives. It was discolored when it was tested for latent prints by FBI agent Latona who applied silver nitrate. A small end section of the bag was not treated with silver nitrate and thus is the original color

Yet conspiracy theorists have pointed to all sorts of "problems" with this particular piece of evidence. They have a long list of reasons why the bag was either not in the depository or contained something else. It's not clear that they need to attack the Warren Commission version here. A conspiracy theory could easily involve Lee Oswald being ordered to bring, or manipulated into bringing a rifle into Dallas that day. Conspiracists tend to compulsively reject any Warren Commission finding.

But does the evidence support the Warren Commission on this issue?

Was the long paper bag in the depository?

Minutes after John F. Kennedy was shot, an intensive search of the Texas School Book Depository was conducted. Among the items discovered was a long paper bag believed used to carry the rifle into the Depository. While the Dallas police photographed all the evidence found in connection with the assassination, they failed to photograph the long paper bag in place. This mistake has led many conspiracy theorists to conclude that the bag was never in the depository.

Twelve officers, all of whom had been on the sixth floor of the Depository, were questioned by the Warren Commission on whether they saw a long paper bag. Conspiracy authors point out that six of the officers stated they had not seen the bag. But the other six said they had. It might seem suspicious that six police officers did not see the bag, until we look at the details of their testimony. None of the six could reasonably have been expected to see it. (1)
Detective L.D. Montgomery leaves School Book Depository with paper bag that held Oswald's rifle. William Allen, Dallas Times Herald Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Among the six officers who did see the bag was Lieutenant J. C. Day, who not only saw it in the Depository but labeled it, "'Found next to the sixth floor window gun fired from. May have been used to carry gun. Lieutenant J. C. Day'" (4H267). Detective Robert Studebaker not only saw the bag but also dusted the bag for fingerprints while the bag was still in the depository. He also drew diagrams to show the placement of the bag (7H144-9). Both Officer Marvin Johnson and Detective L. D. Montgomery saw the bag and carried it out of the building to the station. Montgomery actually found the bag and left it so Studebaker could dust it for fingerprints (7H97-8). Detective Richard Sims, who assisted Lieutenant Day in removing the hulls, was also there when the bag was discovered (7H162). Officer E. D. Brewer was there for the discovery of every piece of evidence and hence saw the bag (6H306-8). While Montgomery and Johnson were leaving the depository with the bag, they were photographed by Jack Beers of the Dallas Morning News, William Allen of the Dallas Times-Herald and George Smith of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Was there a conspiracy between all of these officers to fabricate a story and a bag?

If so, the officers were fast on the uptake, since the bag was photographed being brought out the front of the Depository at 2:19 p.m. (Trask, Pictures of the Pain, p. 338). If it was forged, the officers forged it in about an hour, all the while not having questioned Wes Frazier and Lennie Mae Randle, and not knowing that they would so conveniently tell about the paper bag that Lee Oswald brought to the Depository that morning. They would also have had no way to know that Marina would testify that a rifle disappeared from the garage at the Paine house.

Did the bag belong to Oswald?

Two police officers, Lieutenant Joseph Mooney and Officer Arthur Mandella, and one FBI special agent, Sebastian F. Latona, concluded that a fingerprint and a palmprint found on the long bag belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald. (4H50-1, 14H745, 4H19) Special agent Latona explained the relevance of a palmprint by stating,
Mr. LATONA. . . .Cartons like this, where you have to use both hands to pick it up because of its weight, the probability is that you will get a palmprint as well as a fingerprint.

Mr. EISENBERG. Would the same thing be true of a heavy rifle?

Mr. LATONA. Sure, very definitely.

Mr. EISENBERG. And if the bag contained a heavy object inside?

Mr. LATONA. That is right (4H44-5).

FBI special agent Paul Stombaugh tested fibers found inside the long paper bag against those of the blanket that was wrapped around the rifle when it was kept in the Paine's garage. He concluded that the fibers he found matched the fibers on the blanket (4H76). He could not however state conclusively that the fibers were from the blanket. He explained to the Warren Commission:
Mr. EISENBERG. Now, what do you think the degree of probability is, if you can form an opinion, that the fibers from the bag, fibers in the bag, ultimately came from the blanket?

Mr. STOMBAUGH. . . . All I would say here is that it is possible that these fibers could have come from this blanket, because this blanket is composed of brown and green woolen fibers, brown and green delustered viscose fibers, and brown and green cotton fibers.

. . . Here we have only found 1 brown viscose fiber, and 2 or 3 light green cotton fibers. We found no brown cotton fibers, no green viscose fibers, and no woolen fibers.

So if I had found all of these then I would have been able to say these fibers probably had come from this blanket. But since I found so few, then I would say the possibility exists, these fibers could have come from this blanket (4H80-1).

It is understandable that Stombaugh would be very careful not to overstate the evidence, but is it likely that the fibers that match several blanket fibers would have been found in the bag if they had not been carried by the rifle?

FBI special agent James Cadigan tested the long bag with paper that was taken from the depository on the day of the assassination. He concluded that both the paper and the tape were identical (4H97). A replica bag was made ten days after the assassination. While it was unknown whether the rolls had been changed in the four working days, Cadigan testified that the replica bag and the original bag were not identical but distinguishable by him (4H95). This test showed that even though the paper in both the replica bag and the original bag was made by the same manufacturer, different rolls are distinguishable, showing the time period and the location from which the bag came. Cadigan also testified as to whether there were any marks that linked the rifle to the bag. (2)

Mr. CADIGAN. I was also requested at that time to examine the bag to determine if there were any significant markings or scratches or abrasions or anything by which it could be associated with the rifle . . .


Mr. CADIGAN. And I couldn't find any such markings.

Mr. EISENBERG. Now, was there an absence of markings which would be inconsistent with the rifle having been carried in the bag?

Mr. CADIGAN. No; . . .if the gun was in the bag, perhaps it wasn't moved too much. I did observe some scratch marks and abrasions but was unable to associate them with this gun . . . There were no marks on this bag that I could say were caused by that rifle or any other rifle or any other given instrument.

Mr. EISENBERG. Was there any absence of markings or absence of bulges or absence of creases which would cause you to say that the rifle was not carried in the paper bag?


. . .

Mr. DULLES. Would the scratches indicate there was a hard object inside the bag . . .?

Mr. CADIGAN. Well, if you were to characterize it that way, yes. I mean there were a few scratches here. What caused them, I can't say. A hard object; yes (4H97-8). [Emphasis added]

Conspiracists, not surprisingly, contest all these points. There is a picture that the Dallas Police took of the evidence found in the case against Oswald. This picture shows the blanket and bag next to each other, leading conspiracy theorists to conclude that the bag was contaminated. But the picture was taken after the FBI had examined all the evidence and Mr. Stombaugh had already tested the fibers.

Sylvia Meagher in her book Accessories After the Fact writes, "The Report does not mention the negative examination made by FBI expert James Cadigan" (62). While the Report did not go into the lengthy explanation of the marks on the bag, Meagher herself fails to report all the evidence by not mentioning that the "negative results" do not eliminate the possibility the rifle was in the bag. Meagher conveniently mentions a negative result but does not mention that the absence of markings does not rule out the rifle being in the bag. (3)

The bag held a hard, heavy object that contained fibers matching those from the blanket the rifle was in and had Oswald's fingerprint and palmprint on it. But that's all a coincidence, right?

Was the bag long enough to hold a rifle?

Both Linnie Randle and Wes Frazier testified that the bag was too short to hold a disassembled rifle, thus leading conspiracy theorists to conclude that the bag could not have contained the rifle and must have contained curtain rods.

Linnie Randle was Wes Frazier's sister. The two lived together in her house in Irving, Texas. Wes Frazier was one of Oswald's co-workers and since the Paine residence, where Marina Oswald was staying, was near Randle's house, Oswald would ride with Frazier to Irving every Friday night and the back to Dallas on Monday morning. The morning before the assassination, Oswald asked Frazier if he could have a ride to Irving to pick up curtain rods from the Paine's for his room in Dallas (2H222). Frazier said he could. The next morning as Oswald walked over to Randle's house, Randle happened to be looking out her window and saw Oswald carrying a heavy package (2H251). Frazier also saw the package in his back seat on their way to work. He asked Oswald what was in the package and Oswald said it was the curtain rods (CE 2009). When questioned later about the length of the package, both Frazier and Randle testified that is about 27 inches long while the longest part of the rifle when disassembled is 34.8 inches (CE 2009, 2H250, 3H395).

While Frazier testified the bag was only 24 inches long, give or take several inches, he made it clear he was very unsure about the length of the bag and constantly mentioned that he "didn't pay too much attention" (2H226-7, 240). When Oswald told Frazier it was curtain rods he remembered "the main reason he [Oswald] was going over there that Thursday afternoon when he was to bring back some curtain rods, so I didn't think any more about it when he told me that" (2H226). Oswald "had never lied to me before so I never did have any reason to doubt his word" (13H441). So Frazier clearly was not paying attention to the package. He even stated in an affidavit that the bag from the Depository "could have been the sack or package which he saw in the possession of Oswald on the morning of November 22, 1963, but that he does not feel he is in a position to definitely state that this original is or is not the sack" (CE 2009). [Emphasis added]

Randle "told us it could have been a rifle" and that the bag was "approximately 3 feet by 6 inches."

Randle's testimony was inconsistent. Randle drove over to the Paine house while police were there on the afternoon of November 22. Detective Stovall testified that she told him "that her brother had taken Oswald to work that morning and she said that she had seen him put some kind of a package in the back seat of her brother's car. She told us it could have been a rifle is what she said" (7H192 — emphasis added). She also stated on the day of the assassination that the bag was "approximately 3 feet by 6 inches" (Commission Document 5, p. 320). Randle later participated in a simulation with an FBI agent walking toward her kitchen window as Oswald had, and estimated the bag to be 27 inches long. She then stuck with that estimate (Commission Document 7, pp. 298-9). On the day of the assassination she stated (in the words of an FBI interviewer) that "the Dallas Police Department had exhibited to her some brown package paper, however she had not been able to positively identify it as being identical with the above-mentioned brown package, due to the fact she had only observed the brown package from her residence window at a distance" (Commission Document 5, p. 320, emphasis added). Later when she testified, she was very sure that about the length of the bag.

It is also interesting to note that Mr. Raymond Krystinik, a friend of Michael Paine, testified that Michael, who saw the blanket that contained the rifle in his garage, moved the rifle several times, and stepped over it constantly, thought the blanket was only 27 inches shortly after the assassination (9H475-6, 437). When Mr. Paine testified, he stated that he thought the blanket contained 30 inch camping rods (9H437 and 2H415). When asked if he thought the blanket was 30 inches in length, he replied in the negative and held up his hands to indicate how long he thought the blanket was, which was measured as 37 1/2 inches (2H415 and 9H438).

Randle changed her estimation of the length of the bag after an FBI agent conducted a demonstration to help determine the length of the bag. Although there was a nine inch difference, she stood firmly by her second finding, even though it was 10 days later (Commission Document 7, pp. 298-9). Months later when she testified in front of the Warren Commission, she was very firm on the 27 inch estimate. Frazier said that he thought the bag was around 27 inches long but was adamant that he hardly paid attention to the bag. He was willing to say that he could have been mistaken about how Oswald carried the rifle into the depository (The Trial of L.H. Oswald. Dir. Ian Hamilton. Showtime Entertainment, 1986.). He stated that he saw Oswald from at the closest point a 12 foot distance and the farthest point a 50 foot distance carrying the package into the building while watching welders on the railroad tracks nearby (CE 2009). While both are shaky witnesses about the length of the package, they are both positive they saw a bag matching the description of the one found at the depository. (4)

Lee Oswald's housekeeper (Earlene Roberts, right) and landlady (Gladys Johnson, left). Courtesy Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections Division, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries

Did the bag contain curtain rods?

Oswald told Frazier that the bag he brought to work that day contained curtain rods he obtained from Mrs. Paine. Many conspiracy theorists contend that Oswald did have curtain rods. The question then becomes: could the bag have contained curtain rods and not the rifle, regardless of length?

There were indeed curtain rods in the garage of the Paine residence, but both Mr. and Mrs. Paine testified their curtain rods were still in their garage on the day of the assassination after Oswald had taken his "curtain rods" to work (3H72, 9H448). Oswald did not ask Mrs. Paine if he could use her curtain rods (3H75-6). Oswald did not discuss redecorating his room with his wife (1H68-9). He did not get the needed permission from his landlady, Mrs. Arthur Johnson, or her husband, to hang curtain rods and both testified there was no need for curtain rods in his room as there were curtain rods already up (10H297, 10H302). On the afternoon of the assassination, Allan Grant of LIFE Magazine photographed the curtain rods in place, and that evening a photographer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram did the same (Dale Myers, With Malice, pp. 52-53). Here is one of the photos he shot, and here is the other.

Captain Fritz testified that there were no curtain rods found in the depository (4H218).

If the bag really contained curtain rods, where did the curtain rods come from and where did they go?

What did Oswald say about the bag?

When questioned by police officers after his arrest, Oswald told them that he did not bring a long bag to work and the only thing he brought to work was a bag lunch (4H217-8). Frazier testified that Oswald did not bring a lunch to work the day of the assassination. He even asked Oswald where his lunch was, since Oswald always brought a lunch, and Oswald told him he was going to buy his lunch that day (2H228). Oswald lied about the lunch bag when there was little reason to do so. Oswald lied about bringing a long package, even when the police officers suggested it contained curtain rods (7H305, 4H218).

Was Oswald trying to weasel his way out of suspicion?

Where Did the Rifle in the Paine Garage Go?

When Marina Oswald heard about the assassination of President Kennedy, she immediately went and checked to see if the rifle Oswald owned was still in the Paine's garage. She saw the blanket on the floor and did not bother to open it, feeling relieved. Later, the police came to the Paine residence and asked Mrs. Oswald whether Oswald had a rifle he kept at the Paine residence. Mrs. Paine first answered no but when she translated the question for Mrs. Oswald, she replied that there was a rifle in the blanket. The officer picked up the blanket and it fell limp. Mrs. Oswald turned white. The rifle was missing (3H79, 1H67, 74). Mrs. Paine thought Oswald had been in her garage the night before, since the light had been left on (3H47).

Gus Rose, a homicide detective that searched the Paine residence on November 22, 1963, described the scene as follows:

I stepped out into the garage, walked over and picked it up. I could see what I believed was the imprint of a rifle. Though it may have been partly suggestive, there was something there that made me think a rifle was there. When I picked it up, it fell limp empty across my arm. At that point, Marina let out an audible gasp. I turned and looked at her and noticed that she was wide-eyed and pale. I thought for a moment that she might be about to faint. I now believe that at that point, with the rifle not being there, the full realization had soaked in (Larry A. Sneed, No More Silence, 340).

"They opened the blanket but there was no rifle there. Then, of course, I already knew that it was Lee."

Marina told the Warren Commission about the missing rifle. Many conspiracy theorists contend that Marina was coerced by Federal agents, but before she she had any contact with Federal agents, she gave an affidavit stating that Oswald's rifle was missing. She told the Warren Commission that she thought "there were two reasons [Oswald came home on Thursday]. One was to make up with me, and the other to take the rifle. This is — this, of course, is not irreconcilable" (1H68). Marina told the Commission that when she learned Kennedy had been shot, "my heart dropped. I then went to the garage to see whether the rifle was there, and I saw that the blanket was still there, and I said, 'Thank God.' . . .But I was already rather upset at that time — I don't know why. Perhaps my intuition." (1H74). She testified that when the police came and searched the Paine residence, "and took the blanket, I thought, 'Well, now, they will find it [the rifle].' They opened the blanket but there was no rifle there. Then, of course, I already knew that it was Lee" (1H74).

Marina had been traumatized by Oswald's earlier attempt to assassinate General Walker. The night Oswald attempted to shoot Walker, Marina became worried about him since he was gone until late. She went into his room and found a note that explained what she should do if he was arrested. When he came home, she asked him what the note was about and he said that he had shot at General Walker. Marina was very concerned (1H16). After all, they lived in Texas which has the death penalty. She was afraid of becoming a widow or even losing her husband to jail. She was a foreigner who spoke and understood very little English. Because of that, she was very dependent on her husband. She would be unable to work if she could not speak English, so how could she support her children? She was also afraid of deportation. She was more traumatized than the average wife would have been. Thus when she discovered her husband's rifle missing, she reached a terrible conclusion as to why.

If the bag really only contained curtain rods, why was the rifle missing and where did it go? And what about Marina's statements?


Anyone who wants to deny that Oswald brought the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to work in the paper bag on the day of the assassination needs to answer some questions.

On this, as on other issues, conspiracists are good at raising questions about the Warren Commission account, but quite poor at suggesting any alternative. Unless one can produce satisfactory answers to all — or at least most — of the questions above, one is forced to conclude that Oswald carried his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to work on the morning of November 22nd, 1963.

1.  Conspiracy theorists claim that these six officers show the bag was not in the depository and that the bag was forged. A little research into why these officers never saw the bag leads to a different conclusion. One such officer is Deputy Sheriff Luke Mooney, and while he is correctly credited with finding the sniper's nest, he is wrongly assumed to have searched for anything else in the depository. When he found the sniper's nest, he simply called to Lieutenant Day and made sure no one touched anything until Day arrived. When Day did arrive, Mooney stayed in the Depository for only 15-20 minutes longer, but the bag was not discovered until sometime later. He himself states that he did not look for it (3H287-9). Mooney, like most of the officers, was only concerned with finding the weapon and not other evidence at the time.

Officer J. B. Hicks was also questioned. He testified that he had not seen the sack, but he also testified he had not arrived at the depository until 3 pm while the long bag had been photographed leaving at 2:19 (7H287-9). Captain J. W. Fritz also stated that he did not see the bag but that the bag was found later when he was not there.

Mr. DULLES. When was the paper bag covering that apparently he brought the rifle in, was that discovered in the sixth floor about the same time [as the rifle]?

Mr. FRITZ. No, sir; that was recovered a little later. I wasn't down there when that was found (4H220).

Sergeant Gerald Hill states he "left the Book Depository prior to the finding of the gun (7H65)." Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig left immediately after the rifle was found and photographed (6H268-70). Detective Elmer L. Boyd did not see the bag because he left once he heard about the shooting of Officer J.D. Tippit (7H120-2). The rifle bag was not found until after the shooting of Tippit which Boyd and several officers left to help investigate.

2. Many conspiracy theorists contend that because Cadigan did not find any oil stains on the bag, the bag could not have carried the rifle, which was in a "well-oiled condition." This, however, is false. Only the firing pin and spring were described as "well-oiled." Further, a well-oiled rifle does not drip oil but has a thin layer of oil in working parts.

3.  Jerry McLeer also has a problem with Cadigan's testimony. In his online essay, "The Paper Sack," he points out that the replica sack (CE 364) made ten days later does not match the original bag (CE 142), as James Cadigan testified. He fails to tell his readers, however, that a sample of paper taken from the Depository by the Dallas Police on the evening of November 22nd (CE 677) does match the bag discovered on the sixth floor (4H95-97). Apparently, the roll of paper was changed before the replica was produced on December 1st. Since all the rolls of paper in the Depository during this entire period were from the same shipment from the St. Regis paper company, Cadigan's tests were sufficiently precise to show roll-to-roll variation in paper from the same source. The fact that CE 142 and CE 677 matched is in fact strong evidence that Oswald got the paper for the bag from the roll in the Depository.

4.  Sylvia Meagher claims in her book Accessories After the Fact that, "whatever it contained, the paper bag disappears from view once Oswald moves out of Frazier's sight" (58). She makes this claim because of Jack Dougherty's testimony, who was one of Oswald's co-workers.

Mr. BALL. In other words, you would say positively he had nothing in his hands?

Mr. DOUGHERTY. I would say that — yes, sir (6H377).

What she fails to point out is that Dougherty had just testified sentences earlier that "I was sitting on the wrapping table and when he came in the door, I just caught him out of the corner of my eye" (6H376-7). It was after Dougherty was asked several times about the exact encounter he had with Oswald, and asked if he was certain that Oswald had nothing in his hands, he was willing to agree. It almost appears as though he was pushed into being positive about what Oswald was or was not carrying. Plus Randle and Frazier saw Oswald take a bag to work that morning and Frazier saw Oswald carry the bag into the depository. Does Dougherty really impeach their testimony?
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