The Prints

by Gary Savage

Excerpted from JFK: First Day Evidence


My uncle Rusty [former Dallas Police Crime Lab Detective R. W. (Rusty) Livingston] had worked for the Dallas police in 1963 when JFK was assassinated and kept a personal file on much of the evidence gathered in the Crime Lab investigation.

I wondered if his old briefcase, stored away in a closet for 30 years, held any secrets. After almost 3 years of study, I've learned that Rusty's first generation photos are possibly the most important documentation to date which can now independently verify the authenticity of the first day evidence gathered by the Dallas Police Crime Lab.



Controversy has followed the Kennedy assassination investigation since day one. Many events seemed to work in concert to produce such a situation. However, when one examines the first day evidence as found by the Dallas police and notes when and by whom it was found or developed, a clear sequence of events will unfold. The evidence contained in Rusty's briefcase provides a tremendous amount of previously unpublished information. Many of the conspiratorial charges leveled toward the Dallas police over the last 28 years may now be laid to rest in a new viewing of the evidence collected first by the Dallas Crime Lab.(1)

Rusty has copies of five photographs taken by Lieutenant Day made directly from the original Dallas police negatives which show latent fingerprints found on the trigger housing of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle from the sixth floor of the Depository. The fingerprints are visible to the naked eye even before enhancement. Each of the fingerprint photographs was taken with a light shining on the trigger housing from different directions in order to produce various contrasts of the fingerprints. This was an attempt by Lieutenant Day to bring out as much of the ridge detail as possible in order to do a (comparison for identification of whoever had previously handled the rifle (the shooter). Fingerprint ridges are the lines running around each finger from one side of the nail to the other. The raised ridges are unique to every person.

The rifle was completely covered with black fingerprint powder by Lieutenant Day in order to check for prints after he had returned to the Crime Lab around dusk on the evening of the assassination.(2)

The fingerprint photographs which Rusty retained copies of should not be confused with the palm print that Lieutenant Day found underneath the barrel of the disassembled rifle. This evidence is in addition to that. Many studying the assassination have confused the issue of what prints were found on the rifle as well as where and who actually found them.

Two different areas of prints were found on the rifle taken from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository by Lieutenant Day. The first area of fingerprints was located on the left side of the trigger housing of the rifle as it was held in a forward position. A second area containing a palm print was found on the underside of the disassembled rifle barrel later in the evening of the assassination after further examination by Lieutenant Day.

The latent fingerprints appeared immediately while the rifle was being dusted on the sixth floor after it was located behind the stacks of boxes. This action was captured on film by a news photographer who had been allowed on the sixth floor by police. The fingerprints were then photographed by Lieutenant Day after bringing the rifle back to the Crime Lab Office and are the photographs which Rusty has copies of today.

Crime Lab Detective Barnes was in the office at the time Lieutenant Day photographed the trigger-housing fingerprints. He later compared the trigger-housing photographs himself to a print card of Oswald and told us that he found 3 points of identity. Pete told Rusty and me that there was not a doubt in his mind that it was Oswald's fingerprint.(3)

Verification of ownership of the rifle was initially developed by Homicide Detective Gus Rose for Captain Fritz. On the afternoon of the assassination, Gus was the first officer to speak to Oswald's wife, Marina, about the rifle at the Paine home in Irving. He asked Marina if her husband owned a rifle, and through the translation of Ruth Paine into Russian, Marina responded, "Yes."

Gus said Marina then led them to a door in the kitchen which opened into the garage and pointed out a blanket and told them in Russian that "there is the rifle." Gus picked up the blanket, which was tied with a piece of cord, but the blanket was empty.

Michael Paine arrived at the Paine residence during the time Gus and other detectives were inside. Michael did not realize that the officers were inside when he exclaimed while coming to the front door, "I heard about the shooting, and I came to see if ya'll needed any help." After a brief search of the residence, Gus brought Marina, her two children, and Ruth Paine back to the Dallas Police Department and turned them over to Homicide Captain Fritz.(4)

The Trigger-Housing Fingerprints

The fingerprint traces found on the side of the trigger housing of the rifle were first photographed and then covered with cellophane tape by Lieutenant Day to protect them for shipment to the FBI lab in Washington, DC. Lieutenant Day had determined that the fingerprints were too light to do a lift first and then photograph, so he photographed the fingerprints before covering them with the tape. (5) He also scratched his name on the stock of the rifle. When testifying later in Washington to the Warren Commission, Lieutenant Day told Rusty and me that he had some trouble finding his name because it was very faint.(6)

As Lieutenant Day worked on the rifle during the evening, Chief Curry came into the Crime Lab Office. Lieutenant Day told him at the time that he had located a trace of a print on the trigger housing, but he had not yet had a chance to do a comparison check with Oswald's print card. He told Rusty and me that the Chief then went back down to the third floor and told the newsmen that we had a print. He said that he had not told Chief Curry that it was Oswald's print at that time.

Lieutenant Day had foreknowledge of the FBI wanting to get the rifle from the Dallas Police before the order came to release it from his own superiors. Earlier in the evening Forrest Sorrels, the local Secret Service Agent, told Lieutenant Day, "The FBI is trying to get that gun. I told him that was fine with me if somebody wanted to work on it."

Lieutenant Day did not try to lift the fingerprints that he found on the trigger housing of the rifle on November 22nd, 1963. He photographed them only, and later did try to do a fingerprint comparison from a print card of Oswald to determine if he had held the rifle. Day stated to the Warren Commission that he could not exclude all possibility as to whose prints they were, but he did say that he thought that they were the right middle and right ring finger of Oswald.(7)

Lieutenant Day recalled that, as he was beginning to dust the rest of the rifle following the photographing of the trigger-housing prints, Captain Doughty came in and told him to stop working on the rifle. He said this was probably about 8:30 or 9:00 pm. A few minutes later, Captain Fritz came into the Crime Lab Office and told him that Marina Oswald was in his office and he needed some information about the gun. He needed to know if Lee Oswald's prints were on the rifle. So Lieutenant Day began to once again dust the Mannlicher Carcano and soon located a palm print.

The Palm Print

The lift of the palm print from the rifle by Lieutenant Day has sparked controversy over the years due to what has been labeled an "interrupted chain of evidence." This misunderstanding developed from the FBI's intrusion into the Dallas police investigation on the night of the assassination. The rifle was taken away from Lieutenant Day by the FBI before he had completed his analysis of it. At that time, the FBI did not receive the palm print just developed by Lieutenant Day. The print evidence stayed in the Crime Lab Office, and only the rifle was taken by FBI Agent Drain.

Lieutenant Day told us that, after he had photographed the trigger-housing prints and been stopped by Captain Doughty, he continued work on the rifle under the order of Captain Fritz. It was at that time that he noticed a print sticking out from the barrel. He said it was obvious that part of it was under the wooden stock, so he took the stock off and finished dusting the barrel. He said he could tell it was part of a palm print, and so he proceeded with a lift.

He told Rusty and me that he could tell it wasn't put on there recently by the way it took the fingerprint powder. He said what makes a print of this sort is a lack of moisture, and this print had dried out. He said he took a small camel hair brush and dipped it in fingerprint powder and lightly brushed it. He then placed a strip of 2" scotch tape over the developed print and rubbed it down before finally lifting the tape containing the print off and placed it on a card. He said he then compared the lift to Oswald's palm print card and was certain that it was Oswald's. He also said that after the lift, he could still see an impression of the palm print left on the barrel.

Next, Lieutenant Day had intended to photograph the area of the rifle barrel from which the palm print lift had been made, but was again interrupted by Captain Doughty at about 10:00 PM. He was told once again to stop working on the gun and release it to FBI Agent Drain, who would arrive about 11:30 PM. Lieutenant Day did not have time to write any reports about what he had found, but did have time to reassemble the rifle before Drain arrived.

Drain took the rifle from the Dallas police at midnight on the day of the assassination and flew it to the FBI laboratory in Washington, DC.(8) The palm print lift done earlier by Lieutenant Day had left too little powder residue on the rifle barrel to be readily identified a second time when the FBI received it in Washington. The FBI was not aware that the palm print had been lifted at the time of their initial examination of the rifle.

When the FBI received the rifle Saturday in Washington, a comparison of the faint latent fingerprints found by Lieutenant Day on the trigger housing of the rifle was attempted by Sebastian Latona, the Supervisor of the Latent Fingerprint Section of the FBI's Identification Division.(9) In Washington, Latona also photographed the fingerprints on the trigger housing which had already been photographed by Lieutenant Day in Dallas prior to his placing cellophane tape over them.

Latona could not make a positive identification since the fingerprints were extremely faint following the removal of the protective tape. Lieutenant Day's trigger-housing photographs (which Rusty has first generation copies of), made in the Dallas Crime Lab Office, were the best quality photographs made of the fingerprints found on the side of the trigger housing. The Dallas Crime Lab received the rifle back from the FBI in a pasteboard box. It remained unopened in the evidence room along with other physical evidence in the case. After a few days passed, orders came to release all of the physical evidence to the FBI. That is when the palm print was released for the first time to the FBI.

Lieutenant Day said that a few days after all of the evidence was turned over, an FBI Agent came to his house. He wanted to know when Lieutenant Day had lifted the palm print included in the evidence they had received because they had positively identified it themselves as Oswald's palm print. Lieutenant Day got the impression from the Agent that they thought they had missed it and he could "envision J. Edgar Hoover going into orbit." He then informed the Agent that he had lifted the palm print before releasing the gun on the night of the assassination.

The FBI requested and received the remaining physical evidence from the Dallas police on the Tuesday following the assassination, not aware of the palm print's existence. To say the least, they were surprised upon discovering the palm print included with the evidence. By matching irregularities found on the rifle barrel to it, the FBI later verified that the palm print lift that was delivered was, in fact, genuine.

Lieutenant Day believed at the time that he had not completely obliterated the palm print on the barrel after his lift and later stated that he had pointed out the area of the palm print to FBI Agent Drain when turning the rifle over to him. Drain, on the other hand, did not recall being shown the palm print.

Rusty was standing, by as Lieutenant Day gave the rifle to Drain. Rusty told me that Drain was in a hurry to leave and was distracted by another FBI agent who was hurrying him to leave. According to Rusty, "Drain was half listening to Lieutenant Day and half to the other FBI man and evidently didn't get the word about the palm print at that time."

A New Comparison of the Oswald Fingerprints

As stated earlier, Rusty has an original fingerprint card that he and J. B. Hicks made of Oswald following his murder while his body lay in the morgue at Parkland Hospital Sunday night. At that time, the Dallas Police Department used a small fingerprint card which was manufactured by the Faurot Company of New York. To use the card, an invisible chemical was placed on the victim's fingers, and the card was then rolled over them. The paper that the card was made from then reacted to the chemical from the finger, producing a print on the card. This type of card was typically used by detectives on deceased individuals in order to avoid leaving ink stains on a body already prepared for burial.

The reason Rusty and J. B. Hicks took a photograph and fingerprinted Oswald in the morgue was actually a routine assignment for the Crime Lab.

Rusty told me, "In fingerprinting, normally a lot of times we would have to go to a mortuary where a body had already been prepared for burial, and if we didn't get to it beforehand, we had to go to the mortuary and roll a set of prints. We did roll some prints while Oswald was in the morgue. He hadn't been prepared for burial."

Rusty and J. B. Hicks rolled at least three inkless cards and one inked card of Oswald that Sunday night in the Parkland morgue. Rusty retained one inkless card for his reference. The inked card was taken back to the Identification Bureau and was checked the following day against Oswald's prints taken the previous Friday. Rusty told me it was typical that, when a detective back at the office verified that the prints were indeed from the same person, the fingerprint card was usually initialed by him, showing it had been done.

A firsthand witness with a fingerprint card in his possession helps to verify the fact that the Oswald killed by Jack Ruby, buried in Fort Worth, and later exhumed was the same Oswald who was in police custody charged with the murder of two people. Along with all the other first day evidence in Rusty's possession, this card establishes a chain of evidence to conclude that simple truth. Also, the card could be used to establish one more major fact, again for the sake of history: Do the fingerprints found on the trigger housing of the rifle match the fingerprints on the card possessed today by Rusty?

It was suggested at a second meeting with researcher Gary Shaw that Rusty and I try to find someone locally who was trained in fingerprint analysis to work with the evidence that we possessed. After doing some checking, it didn't take long to locate our local expert. Getting to know a dedicated professional who showed an unwavering and businesslike approach in getting to the truth of the evidence, be it condemning or not, was an exciting time for us.

Captain Jerry Powdrill is today a member of the West Monroe Police Department and is a qualified fingerprint expert. He is often called to testify in court over photographic and fingerprint analysis work that he develops in his Crime Lab in West Monroe, Louisiana. He agreed to help Rusty and me in trying to determine two basic points with our evidence.

Before beginning, however, the first and main problem that Captain Powdrill encountered was to deal with the fading over the years of the fingerprint image on Rusty's card. The inkless card was not designed to be a permanent storage method for fingerprints. The inked cards were used for that. So here we were in 1992, left to deal with the faded card from 1963.

I placed a call to the Faurot Company in New York and was told that fading was indeed a problem with their cards over an extended period of time. They told me that they did not know of a chemical or any other process to enhance the card, and in fact asked me if I discovered a way to enhance the card to let them know! I laughingly told them, "Thanks a lot!" And so we were left to deal with the card on our own.

In fluorescent light, the ridges of the individual prints on the card are still visible to the naked eye; however, it quickly became apparent that it was painstakingly difficult on the eyes to make a point-by-point comparison between the prints. It was decided early on to make a series of photographs of the card to try to enhance the fingerprint images. Captain Powdrill was successful in bringing out the images better by simply shining a light through the back of the card, which was then photographed from the front. He then proceeded with the comparison.

The first major point we asked Captain Powdrill to verify was that Rusty's card matched the other known prints taken of Oswald at various points in his life, such as his military ill, cards taken while he was in police custody in New Orleans, Dallas, and so on. These prints have been widely published in various books through the years, and it was a simple matter for Captain Powdrill to verify the fact that Rusty's card did indeed match the known fingerprint cards taken previously of Oswald. Captain Powdrill stated that he is one hundred percent certain that Rusty's card matches those known prints of Oswald. The claim cannot be made that Oswald's prints have never been sufficiently verified by a failure to maintain a sufficient chain of evidence, or that the Dallas police somehow substituted someone else's prints on Oswald's fingerprint card in an elaborate conspiracy.

The chain of evidence that Rusty possesses is firsthand. It starts and stops with him. He owns the fingerprint card which he and J. B. Hicks rolled themselves. How many other researchers have a fingerprint card of Lee Harvey Oswald that they rolled themselves?

At some point in time all the nay-sayers can no longer sway opinion when faced with firsthand evidence and firsthand witnesses to an event. For all assassination devotees, check Warren Commission Volume XIX, Batchelor Exhibit No.5002, page 18 under the CRIME SCENE SEARCH SECTION list of employees for employee number seven, Richard W. Livingston. Rusty was there. He worked in the Dallas Police Crime Lab. He took the prints of Oswald himself in the Parkland morgue. He helped develop stacks of photographs of the Kennedy investigation. He's held on to a fingerprint card for twenty-eight years in a briefcase in his closet. My family and I have known him our entire lives and know him to be an extremely trustworthy and conscientious person.

Rusty has no reason to lie about what he did at the time of the assassination. In fact, if it were not for my curiosity, all of this evidence would still be sitting in his closet, probably destined never to be seen. Rusty didn't realize that what he possessed mattered anymore. If he did, I'm sure he would have shown it to the world sooner. What he's doing now will hopefully be a contribution to those striving for years to make sense of the awful events that happened so long ago.

The second area pursued by Captain Powdrill was a comparison of Rusty's fingerprint card to the five trigger-housing photographs taken by Lieutenant Day. Keep in mind that Lieutenant Day found what he thought to be the right middle and right ring fingerprints of Oswald, and Captain Powdrill proceeded with this information as an assumption.

After taking and developing an 8"x10" black and white photograph of Rusty's fingerprint card, Captain Powdrill determined that the card, although viewable, was painstakingly slow to use as a comparison print source. I took it upon myself to order JFK Exhibit F-400 from the HSCA files, which is an excellent photograph of Oswald's fingerprint card taken in New Orleans on August 9th, 1963. Captain Powdrill then compared Rusty's card to the JFK Exhibit print card photograph and determined a one hundred percent match. This proved the man arrested by the Dallas police was the same man arrested in New Orleans handing out Fair Play for Cuba literature. Captain Powdrill then used the JFK print card as a source for comparison with the old trigger-housing photographs (still in almost perfect condition).

As stated in his conclusions, many similarities do exist. His comparison focused on the right middle fingerprint of Oswald since it was one of the clearest of the trigger-housing fingerprints. He concluded,

Examination revealed that the right middle finger (#3 finger) of Lee Harvey Oswald and partial latents seen in one of the black and white photographs have the following similarities:

1) Both were ulnar loops (type of fingerprint pattern).

2) Both have a ridge count of 15 to 16 (friction ridge count from delta to core).

3) Three (3) points of identity in the photographs matched three (3) points in the known inked cards.

4) Three (3) other points of identity in the photographed latent had very similar characteristics as in the known inked cards, but positive points of identity could not be made.

Three points matched and three other points possibly matched. Most states require seven to ten points of comparison for a conviction. Captain Powdrill further stated,

To make positive identification through fingerprint comparison, a certain number of points of identity' must be made. The number of points of identity used for positive identification vary in the law enforcement community, wherein some agencies may require a minimum amount of six points and others may require as many as twelve.

Upon looking at the above-mentioned photographs and inked cards for countless hours, I can say that sufficient evidence does not exist to conclude that the latent print (in the photograph) is in fact that of Lee Harvey Oswald; however, there are enough similarities to suggest that it is possible they are one in the same.

Before taking Rusty's fingerprint card and trigger-housing photographs to Captain Powdrill, in the back of my mind was the slight fear of what it would mean if the prints did not match. Captain Powdrill told me at the outset of his comparison that if he found any contradiction, he would immediately stop his work. He found no contradictions. As he stated in his conclusions concerning the right middle fingerprint comparison, "Both were ulnar loops," and "Both had a ridge count of 15 to 16."

A total of six points of comparison in the fingerprint had been examined closely by Captain Powdrill as being similar. Counting the number of ridges between the ridge intersections or loops enables examiners to make a positive identification of an individual. Due to the lightness of the fingerprints on the trigger housing, a good ridge count was difficult to see.

During the course of his examination, Captain Powdrill told me, if someone in his department had brought the fingerprints to him that we had and he had made a comparison check as he did for Rusty and me, that he would tell his man to try his best to pursue the individual. He had a "gut feeling" that the fingerprints were a match and would pursue the suspect, trying to locate more evidence in order to get a conviction.

Remember that Lieutenant Day had also examined these same fingerprints and stated to the Warren Commission that "They appeared to be the right middle and right ring finger of . . . Lee Harvey Oswald." The examination by Captain Powdrill has concluded almost exactly what was stated by Lieutenant Day 28 years ago. Also Captain Powdrill's additional evidence he hypothetically would look for, as stated above, could directly apply here. The palm print of Oswald was also found by Lieutenant Day on the rifle!

The more research I did during the months after first interviewing Rusty, the more I realized the importance of what he knew and possessed for the sake of history. The determination to write about it write about it and help all of those who have struggled over the years to set the record straight became a conviction with me. I began to devour the endless Warren Commission volumes and the House Select Committee volumes dealing with the Kennedy assassination to try to understand if what Rusty possessed was important. I came to the conclusion that it was extremely important in order to help clarify much of the controversy that has developed over the years.

Having the fingerprints on the rifle found at a murder scene where an employee worked would convict an accused person in most courts. Besides that fact, Oswald left the Depository Building after the shooting. He made a stop at his rooming house and picked up his revolver. This revolver was in his possession when he later was arrested at the Texas Theater, making him the prime suspect in the shooting of Officer J. D. Tippit (10) and eventually President Kennedy. And finally, at least three backyard photographs were taken of Oswald, probably by his wife Marina, holding the rifle found in the Depository . . . extremely incriminating photographs.

Author's Note

As the book was headed to press, an independent examination of Rusty's trigger-housing photos was done for the television program FRONTLINE by Vincent J. Scalice, a Certified Latent Print Examiner. Scalice was the fingerprint expert used by the HSCA in 1978. He stated in a letter of conclusions to the author that "Based upon the results of this examination and comparison, it is logical to assume that ALL of these photographs, which exhibit varying degrees of contrast, were not available for detailed comparison purposes in 1963 or 1978." Scalice had not seen all of the photos possessed by Rusty before.

Instead of focusing on only the clearest photograph (detailed in this chapter as performed by Captain Powdrill), Scalice used different enhancement techniques with all of the photographs. He stated. "It was necessary to utilize all of the photographs in order to carry out this procedure as the photographs were taken at different exposures ranging from light to medium and dark. As a result of the varying degrees of contrast from photo to photo, it became possible to locate and identify a sufficient amount of identifying characteristics on which to base a positive identification. As a result of an exacting and detailed examination and comparison under varying degrees of magnification and illumination, I have reached the conclusion that the developed latent prints are the fingerprints of Lee Harvey Oswald's right middle finger (#3) and right ring finger (#4) as they appear on the inked fingerprint card [JFK Exhibit F-400 of the HSCA]."

A comparison was also done by Scalice of Rusty's fingerprint card to JFK Exhibit F-400. He determined that "the inkless prints taken by Rusty [and J. B. Hicks] were indeed those of Lee Harvey Oswald, as they compared favorably with the inked impressions taken on 8-9-63."

Although the trigger-housing fingerprints were "extremely faint and barely distinguishable" and "partially distorted," a positive identification of Lee Harvey Oswald was made by Scalice. This is perhaps the most important finding made since the time of the assassination. It may now be stated as fact that the fingerprints of Lee Harvey Oswald were left behind on the trigger housing of the rifle found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository.(11)


Back to the top

Back to JFK documents and reports

Back to JFK menu



1. Excerpted from Gary Savage, JFK: First Day Evidence (Monroe, Louisiana: The Shoppe Press, 1993) pp. 101-20.

2. Former Crime Lab Lt. John Carl Day, taped personal interview, 18 December 1991.

3. Former Crime Lab Detective W. E. Barnes, taped personal interview, 4 Apri1 1992.

4. Former Homicide Detective Gus Rose, taped personal interview, 16 February 1993.

5. Warren Commission, Hearings Before the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, 26 vols. (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1964), IV: 260-261.

6. John Carl Day interview.

7. Warren Commission, Hearings, IV: 261.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., 48.

10. Warren Commission, Hearings, III: 301.

11. "Initially, only Oswald's partial palm print was identified under the barrel of the rifle (10 points of identification are usually required for a positive ID). In 1992, I met with Rusty Livingston, a former Dallas policeman assigned to the crime lab at the time of the assassination. Livingston had saved high contrast photo prints of the rifle, taken before it was shipped to FBI headquarters in Washington. The photos contained evidence that had gone unnoticed, and when Frontline had them analyzed, Oswald's guilt seemed even more certain. Vincent Scalice, a renowned fingerprint expert and HSCA consultant, was engaged by Frontline and expressed astonishment at what he saw -- three fingers from Oswald's right hand had left their mark just inches from the trigger.

"Scalice, in fact, had located a whopping 18 points of identification. After the production aired, he continued his work and increased the total to 24 points. "If I had seen these four photographs in 1978," says Scalice, "I would have been able to make an identification at that point in time. After this reexamination, I definitely conclude these are Oswald's prints. There is no doubt about it." Other experts pointed out that the prints were "fresh" because they would not last long on a smooth, oily metal surface such as the trigger guard housing." (Gus Russo, Live by the Sword [Baltimore, Maryland: Bancroft Press, 1998] p. 462.)

Back to the top

Back to JFK documents and reports

Back to JFK menu


Search this site
    powered by FreeFind

Dave Reitzes home page