Sunday, 15 December 1996 19:41

The Paines' Participation in the Minox Camera Charade

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The disappearance of this item which originally appeared on the (first) Dallas police list of Oswald's belongings points to collusion between the Paines and the FBI, argues Carol Hewett.

From the November-December, 1996 issue (Vol. 4 No. 1) of Probe

Almost every JFK assassination researcher is aware that the Dallas police found and inventoried a tiny hi-tech Minox camera amongst Oswald's personal effects during the search of Ruth and Michael Paine's home after the assassination.This camera was later omitted from an inventory list once the FBI took over the investigation. What is not generally known is the Paines' role in the "appearance-disappearance"charade.

There were 3 separate inventory lists itemizing the evidence from the Paine household. This is typical of the routine procedures used by law enforcement in establishing chain of custody of physical evidence. First, there was the Dallas police list identifying a "small German camera and black case on chain and film". A pedometer and camera timer were also itemized; there was no mention of a light meter but there was mention of a "brown case (camera) with long chain".1 Then there was the joint DPD and FBI list which was prepared in response to the FBI's assertion of jurisdiction over the crime. The camera is described in aggregate Item #375 as a "Minox camera" together with a pedometer and a camera timer; there is no mention of a light meter. Rolls of undeveloped Minox film and two rolls of exposed Minox film were also inventoried as Item #377. An unidentified electronic device in a brown case was listed as an unsubmitted and unnumbered item as having come from the Beckley Street rooming house.2 When the evidence was taken to Washington, D.C., the FBI Lab prepared its very own inventory by way of a third list; any reference to the Minox camera would disappear from this third list.3

There were four separate sets of photographs of the items removed from the Paine household and Beckley Street residence. First, there were the photos made by the Dallas Police Crime Lab before the evidence was turned over to the FBI which shows the evidence grouped together on the floor of the police station and which depicts the Minox camera.4 At the joint police and FBI inventory of November 26th, a second set of photographs were taken depicting each individual item or selectively grouped items with the numbered photos corresponding to the numbered items. The items ranged from #1 through #455 and required 5 rolls of film. It was understood that the FBI Lab would develop these 5 rolls of film and furnish a set to Police Chief Curry. This intact set of photos from the original 5 rolls have disappeared from the National Archives - assuming that the FBI even turned them over to the Warren Commission or the Archives in the first place.5

The third set of photos consist of 2 rolls of microfilmed photos which the FBI Lab made after developing the photos jointly taken in Dallas; this microfilmed series was furnished to the Dallas Police which in turn furnished copies to other agencies, including the Secret Service.6 In a letter dated December 3, 1963, Police Chief Curry advises the FBI that items #164 through #360 were missing and apparently did not record; he requests the FBI to re-photograph the items.7 The fourth set of photos consist of the FBI's "re-photographed" items which were sent to the Dallas police to supplement the missing photos.8

Not only were there missing frames but some of those that existed had been altered. The Minox camera itemized in #375 of the joint inventory list ceased to exist in the set of microfilmed photos first returned to the Dallas Police by the FBI. Photo #375 which was supposed to be a group photo of the Minox – along with several other camera items – is now just a Minox light meter.9

It is generally unknown in the research community that much, if not all, of the evidence seized from the Paine household and Beckley Street residence was "loaned" to the FBI on the weekend of the assassination even before the FBI took charge of the crime. The FBI assigned number #Q-5 to the Minox camera and/or Minox film at that time. The evidence was returned to the Dallas police after the FBI's inspection. It was then turned over once again to the FBI on November 26th when the FBI assumed jurisdiction.10 We know that the Minox film recovered from the Paine household was in possession of the FBI as of November 25th because on that date the FBI requested a comparison of the Minox film as recovered from the possessions of Oswald with Minox film designated as Specimen Q5. The laboratory results were that Minox film Q5 was not taken with the same camera as the other Minox film.11 Was the FBI comparing the Minox film later designated as Item #377 with the cassette still remaining in the Minox camera recovered by the Dallas police?

The FBI's early efforts to conceal the existence of the Minox camera did not stay secret for long. According to author Gary Savage, a controversy ensued within the first two months following the assassination when news reporters received information that the FBI had altered the inventory list. Furthermore, the FBI had pressured Dallas police detective Gus Rose to change his recollection of what he had found from a Minox camera to a Minox light meter. Detective Rose steadfastly refused to alter his findings and insisted that he found the camera in Oswald's seabag the weekend after the assassination.12

The FBI was now squarely in the middle of an evidence tampering dilemma before the Warren Commission investigation was barely underway. One solution would be to produce the original camera, or any Minox camera for that matter, in order to resolve the discrepancy. This is precisely what the FBI did.

We now know that the controversy over the Minox camera reached the highest levels of the FBI because on January 27, 1964, Mr. William A. Branigan, Chief of the FBI's espionage section, telephoned SAC Gordon Shanklin in Dallas to point out the inconsistency in the inventory lists. Branigan also advised Shanklin that the FBI Lab in Washington did not have the Minox camera in its possession.13 On January 28, 1964 Shanklin responded by advising FBI Inspector Moore of the FBI Lab that no such Minox camera had been found – only a Minox light meter.14 This, of course was an outright lie on Shanklin's part. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover apparently found this reply unacceptable because on January 30, 1964, Hoover sent a teletype to Shanklin advising once again that the FBI Lab had all Minox related items except for the Minox camera. Hoover then instructed SAC Shanklin to immediately investigate this matter and to contact the Dallas Police, Mrs. Oswald and Mrs. Paine, if necessary.15

In an effort to "locate" the camera, Dallas FBI Agent Bardwell Odum on January 30, 1964, contacted Ruth Paine to inquire into whether the Paines owned a Minox camera.16 Ruth recollected that her husband had a Minox which he had dropped into salt water several years ago; she was sure that he had thrown it away but she would ask him about it and get back to him. She also stated that the police took a Minox camera case along with a light meter belonging to Michael which may or may not have been a Minox light meter.17 The next day on January 31, 1964, Ruth Paine called Odum to tell him that her husband still had the camera and that it was in a coffee can in the garage.18 If this was true, one would have to conclude that the local police not only did a poor job of searching the garage the weekend of the assassination but also fabricated the Minox camera on both its original inventory list and joint DPD/FBI list. Since this was not the case, the collusion of the Paines is readily apparent.


The rest of this article can also be found in The Assassinations, edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease.


1 The first DPD inventory list, undated, was obtained from the Dallas Police Archives. It is attached to an undated joint statement of the officers which in turn is followed by a supplementary report dated 11/23. The inventory list does not seem to distinguished between those items recovered on the 22nd, and those items recovered on the 23rd pursuant to a search warrant. With respect to felonies, police officers have the power to search and seize what is in plain view. Closed containers, such as Lee Oswald's boxes, envelopes, suitcases, and seabags, etc. would require a search warrant. While the weekend reports are somewhat sloppy in this regard, the undisputable fact remains that the Minox camera was recovered at that time regardless of whether it was the 22nd or the 23rd. This author has entertained the possibility that the police officers' search on the 22nd went beyond proper legal limits and this was "rectified" by obtaining a search warrant the next morning.

2 See Commission Exhibit #2003 at Vol. 24, p. 340. The evidence was delivered to the Dallas FBI office on 11/26. On forms supplied by the Dallas police, a detailed inventory list was prepared by police property clerk H.W. Hill and witnessed by FBI Agent Warren De Brueys and police captain J. M. English. The Minox camera is identified on Receipt No. 11192-G as one of the items voluntarily given to the police by Ruth Paine and Marina Oswald on the 22nd suggesting that the first police search went beyond its permissible scope as is often the case in criminal proceedings. The listing of the electronic device in the brown case from the Beckley Street address (set forth in the joint list at Receipt No. 11199-G) further clouds the issue of what items came from where and when – at least insofar as the weekend police search is concerned. The police department version in the Dallas Police Archives differs from the FBI's list of the 26th in only one respect: the Dallas list contains the signatures of the FBI agents receiving the property. The accompanying affidavit of Dallas officer H. H. Hill describes the process by which a joint inventory was made wherein FBI Agent De Brueys called out the items, one by one.

3 See evidence list set out in CD 735. Item 375 has been altered to omit the Minox camera and turn it into a Minox light meter. For some reason this list contains the Dallas field office file number instead of the Headquarters file number suggesting that the FBI's own property list was prepared in Dallas before departure to Washington, D.C. We do know from an FBI document that Agent DeBrueys delivered the evidence to the FBI Lab on November 27th. Another document suggests that a 4th list was prepared by the FBI Lab which superseded all prior lists.

4 JFK First Day Evidence by Gary Savage, pp.208, 210.

5 See 11/26/63 report of FBI Agent Ronald E. Brinkley describing how the photos were made with the DPD photo-record camera. 5 rolls of photos were taken using 35mm Kodak High Contrast Copy microfilm. FBI agent James P. Hosty states in his recent book, Assignment: Oswald, p.77 that the photos were taken with a Minox camera. This is a mistake or falsehood on his part as Minox cameras use only Minox film. The documents setting forth the joint photo session with the Kodak film were supplied by Researcher John Armstrong and were obtained from the Dallas Police files. At Mr. Armstrong's request, the National Archives searched for these 5 rolls of photos and could not locate them.

6 See FBI agent Robert Barrett's report of statement from Assistant Chief of Police, Charles Batchelor, dated 7/6/64, and available from the microfilmed collection of Dallas Police Archives. See also FBI memo dated 11/29/63 from Branigan to Sullivan.

7 Curry's 12/3/63 letter from the Dallas Police Archives furnished by Mr. Armstrong.

8 Author's conversation with John Armstrong whose opinion is based in part upon an undated FBI document bearing Agent Wallace Heitman's name, referencing dates of 1/23/64 and 2/4/64 and referring to 85 photographs of Oswald's belongings.

9 Indeed there are two separate photos of #375, one still in the possession of the Dallas Police Archives showing the surrounding items covered up by scraps of paper and the one in the National Archives showing a blow up of the Minox light meter all by itself; copies furnished to author by John Armstrong. The National Archives also has a copy of the same DPD group photos that Gary Savage depicts in his book. However, these photos were enlarged, then cropped to omit the Minox camera featured in the top 1/3 of the original photograph. A copy of the NARA cropped photo was furnished to the author by Anna Marie Kuhns-Walko.

10 See deposition of FBI Lab expert, James C. Cadigan, NARA: HSCA Record No. 124-10086-10013.

11 The author's copy of this document was furnished to her by John Armstrong without the benefit of a RIF cover sheet from the NARA. It appears to be part of report prepared by Dallas FBI agent, Robert Gemberling. Note that the Minox film analysis was filed away in a New York City FBI field office file #65-22483 of the Espionage-Russia division. According to John Armstrong, a FOIA request failed to turn up this file.

12 See Savage pp. 212-215,and transcript of Gus Rose's statement to the HSCA made on 4/13/78.

13 FBI #105-82555-1643, memo dated 1/28/64.

14 Ibid.

15 FBI #105-82555-1580, teletype dated 1/30/64, RIF citation omitted. This teletype also clarifies the fact that there were two Minox cassettes, one of which contained film.

16 Dallas FBI field office file, #100-10461, Odum report of 1/30/64 interview with Ruth dictated on 1/31/64 and typed on 2/3/64

17 Ibid.

18 FBI #105-82555/#100-10461, report of 1/31/64 interview with Ruth Paine, dictated on 1/31/64 and typed on 2/1/64

19 FBI #105-82555/#100-10461, report of 1/31/64 interview with Michael Paine, dictated on 1/31/64 and typed on 2/3/64

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 FBI #105-82555/#100-10461, Bulky Exhibit Inventory Receipts, two versions, dated 1/31/64 and 2/8/64

25 2/2/64 cover letter with Airmail from Dallas to FBI Lab

26 FBI #105-82555/#100-10461, report of 1/31/64 interview with Michael, dictated on 1/31/64 and typed on 2/3/64

27 See Warren Commission Exhibit #2003 at Vol. 24, p. 333.

28 FBI #105-82555/#100-10461, teletype dated 1/31/64

29 Assignment: Oswald, p.86, by James P. Hosty

30 See Warren Commission Vol. 9, p.444

31 See Warren Commission Vol. 10, p.313 and p.325. It is not clear if Shasteen's relationship with Odum originated with the FBI investigation into the assassination or if it was pre-existing.

32 See HSCA, Vol. 12, p. 373

33 See HSCA, Vol. 12, p. 390

34 See p. 211 of Gary Savage's book, JFK: First Day Evidence and Dallas Morning News reports by Earl Golz dated 6/15/78 and 8/7/78.

Original Probe article

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Last modified on Monday, 12 June 2017 21:48
Carol Hewett

Carol Hewett holds a degree from the University of Texas School of Law.  She served as litigation director of the National Juvenile Law Center, and formed her own law firm where she focused primarily on criminal defense and family law.  After 1992, she limited her practice to federal administrative appeals on behalf of social security disability claimants, whereby she could pursue assassination research on almost a full-time basis. She was a frequent contributor to Probe.

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