My multi-part review of Reclaiming History is already being noticed by the Dark Side. After only the first installment, both Vincent Bugliosi's chief acolyte and his second ghostwriter have reacted. (And I haven't even written about Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman yet.)
David Von Pein was Bugliosi's major cheerleader at the time Reclaiming History came out in 2007. He was all over the web proclaiming that Bugliosi's book would once and for all silence those who believed JFK was killed by a conspiracy, preaching to all how the famous prosecutor would forever demonstrate that had Oswald lived, he would have been convicted for killing President Kennedy. Alone. To say the least, if that was the goal, it was Mission Not Accomplished.
The first part of my review questions the centerpiece of Bugliosi's case against Oswald: the rifle. And now drum majorette Von Pein says that somehow it is me who is confused about the serial number issue with what is supposedly Oswald's Italian made rifle. He says that I imply that there were many of the model 91/38 Mannlicher Carcanos issued that had this number attached. He disagrees and says only one 91/38 could have had that serial number.
This is a complete distortion of what I wrote. What I wrote is this: there were about two million of the 36 inch Carcanos manufactured that we have production numbers on today. There were about one million of the 40 inch Carcanos manufactured that we have production numbers on today. Oswald allegedly ordered a 36 inch model, but the rifle in evidence is a forty inch model. This is a point that the Warren Commission -- especially David Belin -- tried to keep out of the record. (John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, pgs 475-76)
So does Von Pein. The Commission and he both realized that this would open up a Pandora's Box of questions about 1) How did Klein's ship the wrong rifle? and 2) whether the rifle in evidence was the right one. Because if what Belin and the Commission were implying-- i.e.,it did not matter which of the two Klein's shipped -- then the universe of MC rifles with that C 2766 serial number just got very wide. And therefore how did one determine if the rifle in question was the correct one? Especially if the Commission and Klein's could not even determine if it was the right length or model?
Von Pein tries to narrow that universe by saying that the rifle in question was a model 91/38 MC. Here's the problem with that. There was a 38 model in the forty inch rifle, but there was more than one 38 model in the 36 inch rifle. If we are talking about the 36 inch 38 model the Commission says Oswald ordered, you are at a universe of about 1.7 million rifles. If you are talking about the forty inch 38 rifle they say he received then you are at about a universe of a million rifles. (ibid, p. 439) And you have more than one factory in more than one city making the Carcano. As I reported, Dr. Lattimer had one of the 40 inch variety with the C 2766 serial number. If you are talking about the 36 inch variety, Tom Purvis has proved there was at least one of those stamped with that serial number. And this is with no systematic search at all! Imagine if the FBI had actually tried to find out the truth on this issue (which is probably why they didn't).
To repeat: Bugliosi never actually confronts this point. He never even fully informs the reader about the outlines of the problem. As I wrote, all he says is that it doesn't really matter if such a problem existed since we know Oswald did it. That might be enough for the Von Peins of the world, but not many others.
In part one of my review, I wrote that there were other problems inherent with the rifle. This is a good place to mention them. In my review I wrote that it is doubtful that Klein's stocked a forty inch rifle in 1963. From the available records it appears that in early 1962 they were phasing these out. (ibid, p. 442) But around this time they placed an order for the 36 inch variety with Crescent Firearms. And they advertised this rifle from February of 1962 to March of 1963. In March of 1962 they began offering a four power scope with the 36 inch variety. The Commission says that this is what Hidell/Oswald ordered.
So right here, in the space of a paragraph I have outlined what appears to be two more problems with Bugliosi's prime exhibit. There is a question as to whether or not Klein's had a forty inch Carcano in March of 1963. If they did not, then where did the Warren Commission's rifle come from? Secondly, in the ad that the Commission says Hidell/Oswald ordered his rifle with, it was the 36 inch length MC that was offered with the scope. The Klein's employee who originated the idea of mounting a scope on the rifle was Mitchell Westra. He told the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) that Klein's only mounted the scope on the 36 inch MC. (HSCA interview of Westra 2/20/78) The man who actually mounted the scopes for Klein's was Bill Sharp, their in-house gunsmith. He confirmed what Westra testified to: the package deal with the scope and MC rifle was used by Klein's to market the 36 inch MC. (HSCA interview of Sharp, 2/21/78) Again, if this is so, where did the Warren Commission's rifle -- a 40 inch MC with scope -- come from?
Now again, even though I have brought up two new serious issues with the rifle -- which Bugliosi never mentions -- I could go on and on with more of them. But the gist of the issue is this: it appears that both the FBI and the Commission realized they had a serious problem connecting Oswald to the rifle. So they did what they usually did in these situations: they did not ask the right questions, failed to interview important witnesses (like Westra and Sharp), made evidence disappear (Armstrong p. 446), and got witnesses to say things that were contradicted by the record. An example of the latter is the date when Klein's received the wholesale shipment in which C 2766 was supposed to be included. (ibid, p 444)
The rifle is a point of evidence that, for the most part, has been granted to Warren Commission defenders through the years. Until recently, the only major exception was George Michael Evica in his 1978 book, And We are All Mortal. Of late, and much too belatedly, the work in this field by Tom Purvis and John Armstrong has allowed these issues around Oswald and the weapon to be aired more fully and intelligently. It is an issue that need not be conceded anymore. Bugliosi thought we would. He was wrong.