The date was late November, 1963. Those of us old enough remember right where we were sitting the moment it happened. Murder, live and in living color on NBC!! Never before had that happened in American history. Right before your very eyes! Jack Ruby, the local strip club operator had sought his own revenge.
Little attention was paid by the media to the body preparation, funeral service and burial of Lee Harvey Oswald. The nation was still mourning the loss of JFK, and most media emphasis was on that subject. Cameras did record live footage of Oswald’s jail transfer with his subsequent shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby, a local strip club operator.
The well known Warren Commission issued a report several years later stating that their opinion was that Oswald had, indeed, acted alone. Even though he had served in the US Marines, he had become a US defector and had lived a short time in Russia before returning to the Dallas area. Jack Ruby’s murder of Oswald led some skeptics to allege that Ruby’s murder of Oswald was the final stage of the ultimate coverup in the JFK assassination scandel that permeated our country then.
Then, in 1980, controversy surfaced about whether it was even ever confirmed that the body in Oswald’s casket and grave was truly that of Lee Harvey Oswald, or perhaps a replacement body was used in attempt to hide the entire mission’s intent. This theory had, no doubt surfaced when conspiracy theories about the entire event began to run rampant during the late 60’s and early 70’s. Through legal battles and jurisdiction lawsuits, it was finally determined to exhume the body from Rose Hill Cemetery to confirm its identity. This would be another opportunity for forensic dental identification to lend a hand in case solving.
On early Sunday morning, October 4, 1981, the remains under the tombstone ‘Oswald’ were disinterred. It was decided that Baylor University Medical Center would provide the location for the examination. The original undertaker, Mr.Paul Groody attended the exam, as well as Drs. James Cottone and Irvine Sopher. Dr. Cottone was a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Odontology. The current local medical examiner, Dr. Linda Norton headed the investigation.
A large crack in the head end of the casket left a gap of approximately 18” x 4” and had allowed water to infiltrate the pine box casket, enhancing further decomposition of the container, as well as the body itself. Those personally present, however, alleged that it was still possible to visually identify the face as the now famous images of Oswald.
A decision was made to leave the body in the casket and disarticulate the head between C2/C3. The head was laid upon an adjacent table where a complete series of xrays were taken of the entire dentition. Alginate study models were also taken, along with accompanying intraoral photos.
Since Oswald had served in the US Marine Corps, his medical and dental records had been obtained from the Military Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, which would serve as the antemortem dental records. When the two forensic doctors made their record comparison, they found six ID markers that were useful. Three permanent teeth of the postmortem material had identical morphology when compared with the military radiographs. Three additional teeth had similar morphology when the details were compared. Similar pulpal anatomy was noted on a seventh tooth in both antemortem and postmortem comparisons. This caused Dr. Sopher to issue the following statement, “…is no doubt that the in-life records and the xrays match the body in the casket.” Dr. Sopher added that the matching of dental records can be “as exact as a fingerprint.”
Dr. Linda Norton issued a final statement upon cursory examination of the rest of the body. “The findings of the team are as follows: We independently and as a team have concluded beyond any doubt, and I mean beyond any doubt that the individual buried under the name of Lee Harvey Oswald in Rose Hill Cemetery is in fact Lee Harvey Oswald.” Lee’s widow, Marina, was “totally satisfied” with the results and was eager to close the matter once and for all.
Interestingly enough, the body was placed in a new stainless steel casket, and the old pine casket (above) was recently auctioned off for an undisclosed sum!!!