Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Rifle Sling - An Ignored Clue?

The Rifle Sling - An ignored clue?

The Rifle Sling found attached to the rifle from the Sixth Floor of the Texas School Book Depository was no ordinary sling. 

None of the Kline advertisments for the Mannlicher Carcano rifle show a sling, and while the Kline employee who mounted the scope on the TSBD rifle was interviewed, the Warren Commission was unable to determine where the sling on the rifle came from or even what it was.

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According to Sylvia Meagher (Accessories After the Fact):

"The Warren Report says that the rifle in the backyard photographs 'seem to be equipped with a homemade rope sling.' In one of the photos (133-A) they decided that the portion of the sling that is visible is too small to establish whether it is rope or leather, but it has the appearance of rope, and its configuration is consistent with the rope sling pictured in 133-B."

The Warren Report says: "The rifle found in the TSBD consisted of two leather straps-not a standard rifle sling but one utilizing what appeared to be a musical instrument strap or a sling from a carrying case or camera bag." (WR 553-554)

The FBI expert Frazier testified that attempts to identify the sling had met with no success and it probably would not be helpful to a marksman using the rifle, since it was "too short", actually, to do more than put your arm through it.... It is rather awkward to wrap the forward hand in the sling in the normal fashion. Later, he said, "the sling would tend to steady the aim even in this crude form."

FBI SA Shaneyfelt described the sling in the photograph: "It has the appearance of being a piece of rope tied at both ends, rather than a leather sling, and it is my opinion that it is a different sling than is presently on the rifle."

Also from the Shaneyfelt testimony: (VOLUME 4, pp. 289-290.)

Mr. Eisenberg. Looking at 133-B, are the observable characteristics of the weapon pictured in the picture-shown in the picture- similar to the observable characteristics of Exhibit 139, the weapon in the assassination.

Mr. Shaneyfelt. Yes, they are less apparent in the photograph because it is a photograph of the BOTTOM, or the BASE of the rifle along the trigger-guard area, but it does show the BOTTOM of the rifle in the photograph.

Mr. McCloy. A bowknot-133-B seems to have a knot at the SWIVELS.
Mr. Shaneyfelt. Yes.
Mr. McCloy. Which doesn't appear on the rifle now.

As Mrs Meagher notes: "Clearly, the men were discussing the rope sling and its attachments to the sling swivels on the BOTTOM of the weapon in the backyard photos. Yet when the alleged murder weapon was found in the TSBD, it had a new leather sling that was attached to the left-side of the rifle and not on the bottom .The sling swivels so clearly visible in the backyard photographs do not exist on the rifle discovered in the TSBD."

"The M 38 Carcano was made in at least four different models.It was made in both 7.35 mm and 6.5 mm. The weapons were identical in appearance except for the sling mountings. Some had mounts only on the bottom of the weapon, others had mounts only on the side, while others had a combination of both bottom and side mounts."

"Marina Oswald did not recognize the sling on the alleged murder weapon (CE 1403) and Ruth Paine did not recall seeing a strap of that nature in her home or anywhere else."

"So, at sometime between April and November, Oswald had changed from a rope sling to a "homemade" leather sling. And from September 25 to November 22, 1963, the rifle was not in Lee's possession. At no time was he seen by anyone carrying the rifle which clearly seemed designed for carrying rather than as an aid in firing."

"We know nothing about where Lee obtained the rifle sling, or the rifle ammunition, or where he practiced shooting the weapon. Nor do we know why Klein's Sporting Goods delivered a 40- inch rifle to the Texas customer who ordered a 36- inch rifle that they advertised in the February issue of the American Rifleman."

"Regrettably, the Warren Commission did not consider it necessary or worthwhile to seek more precise information about the rifle sling."

"It should not have been brushed aside as inconsequential, for it was a clue that might have opened a trail to a person or persons who had conspired with Oswald, OR AGAINST HIM, in the assassination."

---- SYLVIA MEAGHER (Accessories After the Fact p. 112. )

As can be seen on the backyard photos of Oswald holding the rifle, the sling in the photos is all of one shape, size and color, and not the M13 USAF sling, which  must have been added to the rifle sometime after the photo was taken.

The rifle with a different sling. 

Shortly after the photo was taken, Oswald relocated to his hometown of New Orleans for the summer of 1963, and the FBI investigated if that is where he obtained the rifle sling.

The FBI interviewed employees of the William B Reily Company, New Orleans about the rifle sling. Even the vice president of the company, William B Reily, III, was interviewed about it.

N. I. Rains, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Marine Corps was interviewed and said he "never saw anything like it and was at a loss to offer suggestion pertaining to its possible use."

One thing for certain is that the sling was not used to carry the rifle or used to steady the rifle while firing it. So there must be something more to it. 

December 24, 1963: "On December 18, 1963, Mr. ADRIAN T. ALBA was contacted at his place of business, Crescent City Garage, Inc., 618 Magazine, New Orleans. At this time he was shown photographs of the device utilized as a sling on the rifle of LEE HARVEY OSWALD. Mr. ALBA said he had never seen OSWALD with the likes of the contraption shown and expressed the opinion that it definitely had never been intended at the time of manufacture to be used as a rifle sling. He reiterated, as on previous occasions, that he and OSWALD had never discussed rifle slings or like devices for use in the firing of a rifle."


The so-called "contraption" that was at first dismissed as an ordinary guitar strap, is actually a very rare 1956 Milsco M13 Aircrewman holster sling, manufactured by the Milwaukee Saddlery Company and produced for the USAF 38 Aircrewman revolvers.

As Sylvia Meagher notes: “Well, it turns out that the ‘homemade’ leather sling on the TSBD 40- inch Mannlicher - Carcano was a sling from a United States Air Force holster kit.”

 (see: U.S. Military Holsters and Pistol Cartridge Boxes by Edward Scott Meadows, 1987, p. 376)

More specifically it was a holster sling for the Model 13 Aircrew snubnose revolvers made specifically for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) under specifications requested by General Curtis LeMay.

As a gun collector noted: “The holsters for the Model 13 Aircrew snubs were definitely unique,…The two inch version of this holster is usually encountered in black leather and is marked on the flap USAF. It was intended to carry the Colt and Smith and Wesson .38 Special Aircrew revolvers. These holsters were manufactured by MILSCO, formerlly known as Milwaukee Saddlery…”

The holster was designed by Norris Murray, US patent on the design granted in January 1958. From Dayton Ohio, Murray is believed to have been a civilian employee of the USAF at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, where Air Force One is now on public display at the museum.

“In 1947, the US Air Force was carved off from the Army and the new brass realized the need for a modern space age handgun for the occasional aircrew emergency, survival situations, and nuclear weapon’s security breach. In a time when every ounce of weight was sliced from huge bombers like the Convair B-36 ‘Peacemaker’ to allow them to carry atomic weapons to the Soviet Union, the watch word was ‘lightweight.’”

“Colt answered the call for a small and effective, but super lightweight handgun, with a modified version of their then-new Cobra line of snub-nosed revolvers. It was named the Aircrewman.”

“These pistols were issued to aircrews, and some were carried in hip holsters, and some in shoulder rigs….General Curtis LeMay wanted a light weight revolvers to arm SAC crews so the Air Foce had both Colt and S & W (Smith and Wesson) develop special aluminum framed and cylindered snubby revolvers. All were called the ‘Aircrewman.’”

Colt made just 1189 of these special aluminum snub nosed revolvers for the Air Force, 1,123 shipped from 1950-1952, some 255 sent to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in 1951. As it is noted, “This is not unexpected as at the time Offutt was the home to the bombers of the US Strategic Air Command, whose crews sat on constant ramp alert to scramble towards the Soviet Union with a cargo of atomic weapons.”

“Whereas the Detective Special was 21-ounces and the Cobra was 16-ounces, the superlight Aircrewman tipped the scales at just 11-ounces with six rounds of 38-Special loaded….So yeah, the Aircrewman was about as light as you can get.”

“Curtis LeMay was an advocate of Air Force personnel being very well trained in small arms, and as such was a driving force in the AR15 design, survival arms and Air Force competition.”

As one former Aircrewman noted on a gun collector web site: “That was the holster rig we had in SAC alert aircraft. They were locked in the combat mission boxes with the mission data. You normally only saw them if you were involved in the box inventory. Otherwise the box was locked and the boxcar sealed.”

“In October 1959, both the Colts and Smiths were recalled to their depots and crushed, their frames deemed unsafe. To quote the USAF order at the time: ‘Because of the peculiarities of the M13 revolver, i.e. requirement for special ammunition, limited use and potential danger if used for other than the purpose for which it was designed (SAC Aircrew survival), all M13 revolvers excess to Air Force requirements will be mutilated to prevent further use as a weapon. Residue will be disposed of as scrap.”

“Though most ended up demolished, a few guns, already in the hands of retired flight officers escaped the wholesale slaughter….Today it is thought that less than fifty surviving Colt Aircrewmen exist. Many of these are in museums such as Autry, and the Springfiled Armory Museum but a few are in private circulation. To say they are counted as one of the most collectable of all Colt revolvers is something of an understament. One Colt Aircrewman recently sold for over $25,000 at auction…. ‘Property of US Air Force’is marked along the backstrap.,..and on the buttstrap is a second, USAF-issued serial number between ‘AF1 and AF-1189.’”

AircrewmenOn authentic Aircrewman pistols, "Property of US Air Force" is marked along the backstrap.

Not only are the Colt Aircrewman revolvers rare, but the sling is as well, going against the idea that such slings were commonly sold at Army and Navy Surpus stores and readily available. One collector with a M13 sling identical to the one on the rifle said to be used in the assassination has made careful replicas that he sells to those collectors who have purchased the Manlicher Carcano and want to duplicate the sling as well.


A leather holster was found in Oswald's room at 1026 N. Beckley, and both the strap on the rifle and the holster should be checked to see if either has a manufacturer's serial number that could be checked to see who it was issued to, as the USAF kept very good records on the distribution of weapons and accessories. 

So while we don’t know exactly where the rifle sling was obtained, we know where it came from – the USAF Strategic Air Command. 

US Air Force Pilot with Aircrewman revolver.

SAC pilot entering plane with Colt Aircrewman 38 strapped to his waist. 

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bsimpich said...

Absolutely fascinating. I puzzled over this for a quite a while, read a variety of articles and analyses, and came to the conclusion that it was a guitar strap. But your sources are better.

I have not changed my mind about my reluctant conclusion that the rifle was planted on the sixth floor. What would be the purpose of planting this strap with the rifle?

I believe those involved in the assassination of JFK were people from a variety of institutional forces (military, intelligence, the mob, Cuban exiles)

It looks like whoever planted the rifle wanted to at least draw attention to the US Air Force - and probably as misdirection.

I don't think the misdirection was conducted to convince anyone that the Air Force was involved in killing Kennedy.

I think the misdirection was done to remind everyone involved of one thing: The military was not invulnerable.

William Kelly said...

Steven Roe wants to know my sources - and most of them are included in the narrative, except where I quote or use info from the Gun Collector's Web Sites- and while I don't have time to verify it, I believe what these specialists say - the Aluminum Colt .38 manufactured to Gen. LeMay's specific specifications, and it's holster and sling, were not common- less than 2,000 made, and all, along with the S&W weapons of a similar nature, were all ordered destroyed, and only 50 some have survived and are considered very valuable. I will try to document these sources, though I don't have time at the moment, and anyone like Steve who has time on their hands and is interested in this can help confirm or refute what has been developed so far.

NineteenEeeffEff said...

These slings would not have been commonly available anywhere in 1963, but they probably would have been considered to be disposable junk, wherever they were. So I don't think this means that an insider provided the sling for the rifle. It's just some old thing that somebody put on the rifle because it needed a sling. It could have come from anywhere. But I still think this is good information, and a serial number on the holster might lead somewhere.