Dark Corners Menu

"Sniper's Nest" Menu


by Allan Eaglesham

2.3. Actual "Sniper's Nest"

Tom Alyea, newsreel photographer for WFAA-TV Dallas, was present in the TSBD during the search by the police. Although ordered by an officer in plain clothes to take no photographs and to return to the first floor, Mr. Alyea ducked back into the sixth floor and witnessed the discovery of the "sniper's nest." In his own words [7]:

The search on the sixth floor had been underway for about ten minutes when we all heard a call from the direction of the front windows. It was a call summoning Captain Fritz. I could see the head of an officer over the tops of stacked book cartons. He had his hand in the air signaling towards another pile of boxes...The officer was pointing over the top of a row of stacked book cartons that averaged a little less than five feet high. When we looked over the top of the boxes, we saw the shell casings located in front of the second window in the single casement window construction...The west end of the barricade was closed by a row of boxes that extended to the front wall, to the right of the double casement window.

Alyea's description of the arrangement of cartons around the southeast window on the sixth floor is significantly different from what is seen in photographs showing the late-afternoon "sniper's nest" and the official "sniper's nest." According to Alyea, "The west end of the barricade was closed by a row of boxes that extended to the front wall, to the right of the double casement window." In short, the stacked boxes had a tight L-shaped configuration.

Alyea recalls that Detective Studebaker, after assisting Lieutenant Day in photographing the rifle, was led to the "sniper's nest" by one of the officers [8]. When Alyea returned to the southeast corner window, after filming the retrieval of the rifle and its dusting for fingerprints by Lieutenant Day -- footage that has appeared in many documentaries on the assassination -- he discovered that Studebaker had removed boxes from the L-shaped enclosure [9]:

Boxes were taken from the first barricade by Studebaker, and placed as an extension to the second barricade, just to get them out of the way. They can be seen as the boxes with the shipping tape running horizontally, at the bottom of the picture showing the newsmen (i.e. Figure 1).

The removed cartons are also in Alyea's film footage, e.g. in the foreground of Figure 18 (marked with asterisks), which he described as follows [10]:

This was one of the last shots I made on the floor
before I left. Time was approximately 2.15.
[Building manager Roy] Truly had not yet
arrived to tell Fritz about Oswald and Lieutenant Day
was at police headquarters with the rifle.
Figure 18. A frame from Tom Alyea's newsreel film.
(Courtesy of Tom Alyea.)

Let's return to Detective Studebaker's ruminations on Exhibit A (Figure 14) [11]:

This one was right before anything was moved...You see these boxes all right stacked up here, and you couldn't get over here to take another picture in that way, without getting up on everything and messing everything up.

Consider Studebaker's choice of words, referring to the wall of boxes on the right of Figure 14a: "...you couldn't get over here to take another picture in that way, without getting up on everything and messing everything up." By saying that it was difficult to take a photograph "in that way," I believe he meant looking east. He was confessing -- in not so many words -- that in order to take the photograph in Exhibit B (Figure 15), i.e. looking east, it was necessary to remove boxes to avoid "getting up on everything." This interpretation is consistent with Tom Alyea's description of a tight L-shaped configuration. In contrast, the official depiction of the "sniper's nest" posed no photographic challenge whatsoever.

Apparently, Detective Studebaker's primary objectives were to photograph the spent cartridges and to process the book cartons for fingerprints; with less than two months on-the-job experience, he neglected to make a complete photographic record of the overall scene of the crime of the century*!

(*Not only did Detective Studebaker fail to photograph the arrangement of cartons at the "scene of the crime," he failed also to photograph a long paper sack, said to have been found on the floor in the south-east corner, within which Lee Oswald purportedly carried a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle into the TSBD. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Tom Alyea has no recollection of the paper sack. If it had been there, he is certain that he would have recorded its presence on film [12]. It is possible that Studebaker's failure to photograph the paper sack was not because of incompetence, but because it was not there.)

Tom Alyea's description of the carton arrangement as a solid L-shaped "barricade" tends to be borne out by the Warren-Commission testimony of Dallas Police Department Sergeant Gerald Lynn Hill. Sergeant Hill said that he witnessed the discovery of the "sniper's nest" and left the TSBD shortly thereafter. Therefore, he did not witness the removal of cartons from the original structure by Mr. Studebaker, and described the arrangement as [13]:

...boxes had been stacked in sort of a triangle shape with three sides over near the window...the boxes were stacked in sort of a three-sided shield.

Of course, the boxes actually were not in a triangle. An L-shaped configuration fits with Hill's words, whereas it would be impossible to describe the setup in Figures 12 and 13 as "a three-sided shield."

Figures 19 and 20 show a possible arrangement of cartons consistent with Tom Alyea's description, with "the west end of the barricade closed by a row of boxes that extended to the front wall, to the right of the casement window."

Figure 19. Possible carton arrangement of the actual "sniper's nest," elevation view.

Figure 20. Possible carton arrangement of the "sniper's nest," plan view.

According to Alyea [14], the "rifle-rest" set-up in Figure 20 is close to how he remembers it. The angle in the horizontal plane, at which I have placed the box on the window-sill in Figure 20, is based on a photograph taken by free-lance photographer James Murray 10 to 15 minutes after the shots were fired, i.e. before the "sniper's nest" was discovered (Figure 21). In comparison with the "official" representation, the actual "rifle-rest" was several inches to the east (compare Figures 20 and 13).
Figure 21a. James Murray's photograph, approx. 12:42 PM
Figure 21b. Please see note below**.
(**At first viewing, it may appear that Mr. Murray's photograph precludes Tom Alyea's description of a complete wall of boxes (Figures 19 and 20): dark area A seems to be consistent with the two- and three-stack arrangements in Figures 12 and 5, respectively. In fact, area A is in shadow (as is B, the location of the highest box in the wall). Area C is in partial shadow because of the double layer of dirty glass in area D.)

7. Alyea T, JFK Facts Chapter 1 pages 14-15.
8. Alyea T, e-mail January 20, 1999.
9. Alyea T, e-mail September 19, 1998.
10. Alyea T, e-mail January 29, 1999.
11. 7H139.
12. Alyea T, e-mail September 27, 1998.
13. 7H46.
14. Alyea T, e-mail September 13, 1998.

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