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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

The Scholarship of James DiEugenio - A Case Study

The paraffin tests on the hands and cheeks of Lee Harvey Oswald have been the source of controversy since the early books on the assassination by Mark Lane and Harold Weisberg. A key question is whether the tests were decisive enough to determine if Oswald fired either his pistol or his rifle on November 22, 1963.

Here is what the Warren Report says about the paraffin test:

As can be seen the paraffin test was negative for nitrates on Oswald's right cheek. However, when subjected to neutron-activation analysis, it was found that barium (Ba) and antimony (Sb) were present on the both the inside and outside surface of the paraffin casts. While the test found that there was "more barium and antimony present on the casts than would normally be found on the hands of a person who had not fired a weapon," the bottom line is that the paraffin tests were indecisive.

However, James DiEugenio has challenged the premise that the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle would not have left residue on Oswald's right cheek. He writes on page 112 of The JFK Assassination:

"Former FBI agent Bill Turner did not buy FBI agent Cortland Cunningham's testimony about no residue escaping into the gunman's face. Writing for the magazine American Jurisprudence, Turner conducted his own tests with Vincent Guinn (who, as we have seen, Bugliosi trusts in other matters). Turner and Guinn found that the weapon discharged nitrates in abundance."

The footnote for this paragraph says, "Letter from Turner to Gary Aguilar, July 17, 2007."

Let me get this straight. DiEugenio mentions Turner's article in his book, but yet his footnote doesn't even cite the actual article! Or quote it. Or even quote Bill Turner. Or even quote Gary Aguilar.

Is that scholarship?

Here is what Bill Turner writes in his book, Invisible Witness: The Use and Abuse of the New Technology of Crime Investigation, published in 1968: (page 76)

"The FBI did not think so. "A rifle's chamber is tightly sealed," testified FBI ballistics expert Cortland Cunningham, "and so by its very nature, I would not expect to find residue on the right cheek of a shooter." This explanation seemed so implausible that I contacted Dr. Vincent Guinn of General Atomics, who pioneered the development of the NAA process. He said that he and Raymond Pinker of the Los Angeles police crime laboratory were also curious about the Cunningham testimony, and ordered an Italian Carcano rifle such as Oswald supposedly fired from the same mail order house in Chicago. They fired the obsolete weapon a number of times -- some gun experts think it is likely to blow up -- and tested their cheeks by NAA. Nitrates from the blowback were present in abundance."

Turner also mentioned this in his article "The Inquest" in the June 1967 issue of Ramparts Magazine:

"This explanation seemed so implausible I contacted Dr. Vincent Guinn of General Atomics in San Diego, who pioneered the development of the NAA Process. He said that he and Raymond Pinker of the Los Angeles police crime lab were also curious about the test, and ordered an Italian Carcano rifle such as Oswald supposedly fired. They fired the obsolete weapon, which some authorities think is liable to blow up, and tested their cheeks. Nitrates from the blowback were present in abundance."

There is no claim that he, alone or with Guinn, wrote this up for a magazine. It appears that Turner just spoke to Guinn about his tests.

I decided to search for the supposed article in American Jurisprudence, which turns out to be a legal encyclopedia, not a journal.

I did manage to find that there is a Journal of American Jurisprudence.

"The American Journal of Jurisprudence is an international journal publishing critical discussions of the moral foundations of law and legal systems, exploring current and historical issues in ethics, philosophy of law or jurisprudence, and legal (including constitutional) theory."

It doesn't look like the kind of publication that would publish a forensic study of neutron activation analysis. I searched for Turner and Guinn and came up empty.

It's not the quantity of footnotes that count. It's the quality. This is a good example where Mr. DiEugenio falls short.


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