Kennedy Assassination Firearms Factoids

The "Well-Oiled" Rifle

Oswald's Manlicher-Carcano was supposedly stored in a blanket in the garage of Ruth Paine, with whom Marina and Oswald's two children were staying. Then, the Warren Commission's version of events holds, he carried it from the garage to the Depository in a paper bag. The FBI said the rifle was well-oiled, so conspiracy theorists wonder why there was no oil found on either the blanket or the bag. Thus, they claim, the bag and blanket are worthless pieces of evidence. For example Sylvia Meagher, in Accessories After the Fact, writes:
It is difficult to understand why a well-oiled rifle carried in separate parts would not have left distinct traces of oil on the paper bag, easily detected in laboratory tests if not with the naked eye.

. . .

Equally significant, there were no oil stains or traces on the blanket in which a well-oiled rifle ostensibly had been stored--not for hours but for months. This serves further to weaken, if not destroy, the Commission's arbitrary finding that the Carcano rifle had been wrapped in that blanket until the night before the assassination (62).

Jim Marrs in his book, Crossfire, writes:

But again, upon closer inspection, this piece of evidence [the bag] becomes highly questionable. First, while the Oswald rifle was found to be well-oiled, there is absolutely no trace of gun oil on the paper bag (448).

So does the lack of oil stains mean the bag and blanket are worthless as evidence? The logic seems plausible enough so far.

The basis of the claim that the rifle was "well-oiled" is Commission Exhibit 2974, a letter that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover wrote to Warren Commission Counsel J. Lee Rankin. Conspiracy theorist Jerry McLeer, on his web page The Paper Sack, shows his readers a portion of Commission Exhibit 2974. J. Edgar Hoover does claim the rifle was "well-oiled." The problem comes when one looks at the entire letter.


August 20, 1964
By Courier Service

Honorable J. Lee Rankin
General Counsel
The President's Commission
200 Maryland Avenue, Northeast
Washington, D. C.

Dear Mr. Rankin:

On August 13, 1964, Mr. Norman Redlich of your staff, orally requested of Special Agent Robert A. Frazier, FBI Laboratory, certain information concerning the assassination rifle, Commission Number 139. Mr. Redlich requested information with regard to the following questions:

  1. - What is the meaning of the term "plunger"?
  2. - Was the firing pin of the rifle replaced?
  3. - Does the FBI have information concerning the availability of spare parts for rifles such as Commission Number 139?

You are advised that the term "plunger" is a colloquial term applied to the firing pin or striker of a firearm.

The assassination rifle has been examined and nothing was found to indicate that the firing pin had been changed.

In this connection it should be noted that the firing pin of this rifle has been used extensively as shown by wear on the nose or striking portion of the firing pin and, further, the presence of rust on the firing pin and its spring may be an indication that the firing pin had not been recently changed prior to November 22, 1963. This rust would have been disturbed had the firing pin been changed subsequent to the formation of the rust. In this regard, the firing pin and spring of this weapon are well oiled and the rust present necessarily must have been formed prior to the oiling of these parts. [Emphasis added]

No oil has been applied to the weapon by the FBI; however, it is not known whether it was oiled by any other person having this rifle in his possession. It was noted during the examination of the firing pin that numerous shots have been fired with the weapon in its present well-oiled condition as shown by the presence of residues on the interior surfaces of the bolt and on the firing pin.

The Laboratory has no record of any outlet where spare parts, including firing pins, can be obtained for rifles such as Commission Number 139. In accordance with Mr. Redlich's telephonic request and in the absence of any indication that the firing pin of the rifle was changed, no investigative survey was conducted to ascertain whether any such outlets exist in the United States.

Sincerely yours,


J. Edgar Hoover

So it seems that conspiracists have been conveniently ignoring a key piece of context. Hoover in fact states that "the firing pin and spring of this weapon are well-oiled." Later, when he mentions the present well-oiled condition of the rifle, he is referring back to the firing pin and spring. He goes on the state that it could not be determined whether the rifle had been oiled at any time.

Since the firing pin and spring are internal components, there is no reason to expect that any oil would get on a blanket or bag used to carry the rifle.

But just how much oil is necessary for these parts to be "well-oiled?" Some insight into what the military considers "well-oiled" can be found in Operator's Manual for the M16 and M4. It instructs the reader to "lightly lubricate the firing pin" (0016 00-6). Lightly lubricate is defined as "a film of lubricant barely visible to the eye" (0016 00-3). Because the firing pin and spring are internal components, when they are lightly lubed, they do not drip oil. There is no reason to believe that the rifle would have left oil residue on either the blanket or the bag.

The Operator's Manual instructs the reader to "lightly lube inside of upper receiver, bore and chamber, outer surfaces of barrel and front sight, and surfaces under handguard" (0016 00-4). One can reasonably assume that Oswald would have been trained in the military in such a manner and so if he did regularly oil his rifle, it also would not be dripping oil. The light cover of oil would be absorbed into the rifle.

The conspiracy claim that the bag or blanket should have had oil residue is another firearms factoid. One can perhaps understand that conspiracists, who mostly aren't gun buffs, would jump to conclusions about how firearms are maintained. But how does one excuse their concealing the fact that only the firing pin and spring were "well-oiled?"

Return to Kennedy Assassination Home Page