The "Norton Report" as first published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences

January, 1984

Converted to electronic file format by W. Tracy Parnell.

Editing and Table 3 (Forensic Dental Examination Summary) by Carol Parnell.

UNDERLINED HEADINGS refer to JFS page numbers.



Linda E. Norton,1 M.D.; James A Cottone,2 D. M.D., M. S.;

Irvin M. Sopher,3D.D.S., M.D.; and Vincent J. M. DiMaio,4 M.D.



The Exhumation and Identification of Lee Harvey Oswald


REFERENCE: Norton, L. E., Coffone, J. A., Sopher, I. M., and DiMaio, V. J. M., "The Exhu­mation and Identification of Lee Harvey Oswald," Journal of Forensic Sciences, JFSCA, Vol. 29, No.1, Jan.1984, pp.19-38.


ABSTRACT: The investigations surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the subsequent killing of Lee Harvey Oswald resulted in many theories concerning what really happened in November 1963. One theory postulated the substitution of a Russian agent for Oswald; another that his grave was actually empty. This report documents the historical background, legal proceedings, preparations and actual exhumation, examination, and identi­fication of the remains of Lee Harvey Oswald. The pertinent findings of a cracked vault, deterio­rated casket, decomposed remains, two rings, a mastoidectomy defect, and the details of the positive dental identification are presented. Additional items covered include team formation, security measures, site selection, financial considerations, the news media, and selection of authorized witnesses.


KEYWORDS: pathology and biology, odontology, Lee Harvey Oswald, human identification, dentition



Historical Background and Legal Proceedings


Lee Harvey Oswald was born on 18 Oct.1939 in New Orleans, LA (Table 1). He was a mem­ber of the United States Marine Corps from 24 Oct.1956 through 3 Sept.1959. Following his release from active military duty, Oswald defected to the USSR, met and married Marina Prusakova, a Russian citizen, and together, they returned to the United States in 1962.


On 22 Nov.1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX. Oswald was arrested in connection with the assassination and two days later, was fatally shot by Jack Ruby while being transferred to a vehicle at the Dallas County Jail. An autopsy was performed by Dallas County Coroner Dr. Earl Rose. Although Oswald's identity was not in question at the time, a single thumbprint was taken that was positively compared with military records.


Fourteen years later, British author Michael Eddowes published The Oswald File [1] in which he alleged that a "look-alike" Russian agent had been substituted for Oswald during his defection and returned to the United States to assassinate President Kennedy. Using what Ed­dowes called "inconsistencies" between Oswald's Marine Corps medical records and the autopsy


1 Medicolegal consultant, Dallas, TX.

2 Associate professor and head, Section of Forensic Odontology, Department of Dental Diagnostic Science, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Dental School.

3 Chief medical examiner, State of West Virginia, South Charleston, WV and clinical professor of pathology, West Virginia University School of Medicine and Marshall University School of Medicine.

4 Bexar county chief medical examiner, San Antonio, TX.




TABLE 1-Lee Harvey Oswald-historical background and legal proceedings.


Date                                         Occurrence


18 Oct.1939                              Date of birth

24 Oct.1956                              Induction into U.S. Marine Corps

3 Sept.1959                              Separation from U.S. Marine Corps

1961                                         Oswald marries

13 June 1962                             Oswald returns to United States

22 Nov.1963                              President John F. Kennedy assassinated

24 Nov.1963                              Oswald assassinated

1977                                         Eddowes publishes The Oswald File

10 Jan.1979                              Eddowes files suit to force exhumation

1 June 1979                              Eddowes' request denied

Aug.1979                                  Attorneys for Eddowes approach Dallas County medical examiner

30 Aug.1979                              Dallas medical examiner obtains medical and dental records

Sept. 1979-Feb. 1980                Jurisdictional battle between Dallas and Tarrant Counties

20 Feb.1980                              Tarrant County withdraws active opposition to exhumation

21 Feb.1980                              Dallas medical examiner withdraws saying exhumation unnecessary

8 Aug.1980                               Marina signs autopsy consent

14 Aug.1980                              Robert Oswald obtains Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against exhumation

5 Sept.1980                              Robert's injunction granted

19 Aug.1981                              Marina files suit against Robert

17 Sept.1981                             The Court of Appeals dissolves Robert's original injunction

23 Sept.1981                             Robert Oswald granted TRO

25 Sept.1981                             Robert capitulates

Midnight, 3 Oct.1981                 TRO expires

4 Oct.1981                                Exhumation and identification occurs



report, he first approached Dr. Felix Gwozdz, then Medical Examiner for Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth), where Oswald was buried, requesting that he exhume the body so as to verify the identification.


When Dr. Gwozdz refused, Eddowes filed suit in the Tarrant County 141st District Court against both Dr. Gwozdz and the Tarrant County District Attorney to force exhumation [2]. The court granted a summary judgment for the defendants denying Eddowes request. The Texas Court of Appeals later stated that the trial court should have dismissed the case, an opin­ion which was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court.


Meanwhile, while awaiting appeal, attorneys for Eddowes approached Dr. Linda Norton, then Medical Examiner for Dallas County, suggesting that the Dallas County Medical Exami­ner's Office resume their original jurisdiction over the case and exhume the body. After con­sulting with Dr. Charles Petty, Dallas County Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Norton obtained a copy of Oswald's medical and dental records including dental interproximal ("bitewing") radiographs from the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. These records would be useful for a forensic science identification because they were dated before Oswald's defection to the USSR and thus contained identity data of the "real" Lee Harvey Oswald. Dr. Petty subsequently requested that the pathology resident who had recently replaced the de­ceased Dr. Gwozdz as Tarrant County Medical Examiner exhume the body "buried in Rosehill Cemetery under the name of Lee Harvey Oswald" under Article 49.25 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and send the remains to the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office for autopsy. A jurisdictional battle ensued as legal opinions regarding Article 49.25 varied consid­erably as to which county, if any, had jurisdiction over a person killed in one county but subse­quently buried in another. The conflict appeared to be resolved some six months later when Tarrant County officials withdrew their active opposition to the exhumation, clearing the way for Dallas County to proceed; however, the Dallas County Chief Medical Examiner then also withdrew stating that he no longer felt the exhumation was necessary. At this point, all legal actions had been completed and all involved parties were quiet for several months.




Eddowes then directed his attention to Marina Oswald Porter, Oswald's legal next of kin, and obtained her signature on a consent for Dr. Petty to perform the autopsy at the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office as a "private case." Eddowes was to pay all expenses. News of the preparation for exhumation prompted Oswald's brother, Robert, to request a temporary restraining order (TRO) which was granted by the aforementioned 141st District Court. In his original petition, Robert Oswald named Petty, Eddowes, Marina Oswald Porter, Rosehill Cemetery, and the Dallas County Commissioner's Court Judge. By amended pleadings, Robert dismissed all but Petty, Eddowes, and Rosehill Cemetery. The court denied the injunction against Rosehill Cemetery, granted Petty the right to be sued in the county of his residence, rather than Tarrant County (thus, effectively severing him from the suit), and granted Robert's injunction against Michael Eddowes. Petty failed to comply to a subpoena to appear for the hearing (because of miscommunication) and Robert's attorneys filed a motion for contempt. Meanwhile, the Dallas County Commissioners, stirred by what they considered "adverse pub­licity" for Dallas County, openly opposed the use of any county facility for the examination, justifying their position by stating that a "private" autopsy should not be performed using county property.


During the next year, while awaiting Eddowes' appeal of the injunction, numerous negotia­tion attempts, motions, and counter motions kept attorneys for all sides occupied. Finally, on 19 Aug.1981, Marina, tiring of the harassment and believing that the grave was in fact empty, filed suit against Robert. By remarkable coincidence the case became "randomly" assigned to the 141st District Court.


On 17 Sept. 1981, slightly over a year after the lower court's decision to grant Robert Oswald an injunction against Eddowes, the Court of Appeals heard the case. Again, they reversed the 141st District Court citing Article 49.05 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The court found that Robert had no "justiciable" interest in the exhumation of the remains of his brother given the fact that there was a surviving spouse and children. Marina Oswald Porter was now considered by the Court of Appeals as an "indispensable party" because of her statutory rights under Article 49.05. By dissolving the injunction, the court effectively allowed Marina to pur­sue her lawsuit against Robert.


Despite the higher court's decision, a week later the 141st District Court again granted Robert a temporary restraining order against Marina; however, Robert and his attorneys ca­pitulated citing emotional and financial burdens as the reason. Thus, the temporary restrain­ing order was allowed to run its ten-day course and expire at midnight, 3 Oct.1981, permitting Marina without judicial intervention, to proceed with the exhumation on 4 Oct.


Preparations for Exhumation and Examination


As litigation progressed and it became apparent that the exhumation would ultimately take place, practical issues were addressed by attorneys for both Eddowes and Marina. The choice of Dr. Norton as the chief forensic pathologist for the examination was based on the fact that: (1) she was familiar to the attorneys; (2) she had escaped involvement in any of the litigation; and (3) she had possession of the critical medical and dental records and radiographs. Because of the legal implications of the case, a team approach was elected, with the desired goal to keep the team as small as possible. A total of two forensic pathologists and two forensic odontologists was felt to be sufficient.


The selection of an examination site was more difficult. The county commissioners had earlier denied the use of the Dallas Institute of Forensic Science, and Mrs. Marina Oswald Porter refused to allow the remains to be transported out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Therefore, a search was conducted for a local facility that: (1) could be effectively secured and (2) whose personnel were willing to accept the certain disruption of routine and possible controversy to be expected in a case of this nature. Dr. George Race, Chairman of the Department of Pathol­ogy at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, was approached and, with the consent of Baylor Hospital ad-




ministrators, agreed to the use of his facility. Dr. Cottone, team member and forensic odontol­ogist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, with the permission of health science center administrators, supplied the necessary equipment for the dental exami­nation. Mr. Eddowes was responsible for all expenses. The examination team worked for ex­penses only because of the controversial nature of the case; Baylor accepted a very nominal fee; and at least one attorney, to date, has received no remuneration.


The autopsy facility at Baylor satisfied all requirements for a secure examination. Once ac­cess to the autopsy area was achieved, minimal security was necessary to prevent any trespass caused by a single door entry (Fig. 1). Security was of paramount importance, especially to



FIG. 1-Baylor Pathology Laboratories (schematic drawing) as equipped,

staffed, and used for the examination and identification

of Lee Harvey Oswald on 4 Oct. 1981.




Mrs. Marina Oswald Porter, who abhorred the idea of the possible publication of another un­authorized photograph of Oswald's remains as had occurred subsequent to the 1963 autopsy. The examination team was allowed to make only close-up documentary photographs as shown herein. The entire proceeding was, however, videotaped by a personal friend of the Porters. Security was handled by a private agency, as chosen by the attorneys.


Other persons allowed to be present during the examination were determined largely by the various attorneys. The examination team was assisted by one pathology technician and one dental radiology technician. Dr. Race and his chief associate alternated to help maximize the use of their equipment and facility; a court recorder noted all proceedings; and attorneys rep­resenting Eddowes, Marina Porter, Robert Oswald, and Rosehill Cemetery, were also present. The mortician who closed Mr. Oswald's casket remained in the room until the casket was reopened.


Members of the news media were totally excluded from the proceedings with the exception of one United Press International (UPI) reporter who, upon agreement with at least one of the attorneys, was allowed into a morgue anteroom. A single public press conference was held at the conclusion of the examination, coincidental with the body being transported back to Rosehill Cemetery for reinterment in a new casket and vault.


The Exhumation


A small crowd gathered at Rosehill Cemetery during the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, 4 Oct. 1981 (Table 2). Backhoes began work on the gravesite as soon as there was sufficient light for safe operation. Speedy removal of the remains was emphasized: (1) for better security and (2) to allow the cemetery to open its gates for gravesite visitations as early as possible. The con­crete vault was quickly exposed and noted to be cracked which negated the original plan to re­move and transport it intact for opening at the vault company. A trench was dug along the vault which allowed workmen to open it easily. Extensive water damage to the casket was ap­parent: the cover was weak in many areas, and in one place had caved in partially exposing the remains.


A wooden platform was lowered into the trench and the casket was gently slid onto it. A card­board lid, designed to fit over the casket, was in place before lifting the platform from the grave and placing it in a hearse. The entire operation was completed by 9:00 a.m. (Central Daylight Savings Time [CDT]), by which time, a large crowd of spectators and news media representa­tives had gathered. The hearse, heading toward Dallas, lent further credence to the assump­tion that the examination was to take place at the Dallas Institute of Forensic Science. Thus, most of the news media went to that office which facilitated the rapid transport of the casket into the Baylor autopsy area (Fig. 1).



TABLE 2-Timetable of exhumation and identification of

Lee Harvey Oswald, 4 Oct. 1981.



            6:30 a.m.(a)       Exhumation began

            8:00 a.m.          Unearth casket

            9:00 a.m.          Leave Rosehill

            9:20 a.m.          Arrive at Baylor Medical Center, Dallas

            2:30 p.m.          Exam complete

            3:00 p.m.          News conference

            4:00 p.m.          Reinterment


(a) Central Daylight Savings Time.



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