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,
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
Lee Harvey Oswald was born on 18 Oct.1939 in
On 22 Nov.1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated
Fourteen years later, British author Michael Eddowes published The Oswald File  in which he
alleged that a "look-alike" Russian agent had been substituted for
Oswald during his defection and returned to the
1 Medicolegal consultant,
2 Associate professor and head, Section of Forensic Odontology, Department of Dental Diagnostic Science, The
University of Texas Health Science Center at
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,
TABLE 1-Lee Harvey Oswald-historical background and legal proceedings.
18 Oct.1939 Date of birth
1961 Oswald marries
June 1962 Oswald
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
1979-Feb. 1980 Jurisdictional
20 Feb.1980 Tarrant County withdraws active opposition to exhumation
14 Aug.1980 Robert Oswald obtains Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against exhumation
5 Sept.1980 Robert's injunction granted
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
Meanwhile, while awaiting appeal,
attorneys for Eddowes approached Dr. Linda Norton,
then Medical Examiner for
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,
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,
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
Despite the higher court's decision, a week later the 141st
District Court again granted Robert a temporary restraining order against
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
ministrators, agreed to the use of his facility.
Dr. Cottone, team member and forensic odontologist at the University of
Texas Health Science Center at
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,
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
A small crowd gathered at
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
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
2:30 p.m. Exam complete
3:00 p.m. News conference
4:00 p.m. Reinterment
(a) Central Daylight Savings Time.