Crime Scene Search Unit
Dallas Police Department
“When I came out of the Book Depository, walking with the FBI man who was taking me to the office, somebody asked me, 'Is that a Mauser? or words to that effect. I didn't answer them”… I didn't know what I had other than it was a gun…"
Born and raised in Dallas, Carl Day graduated from high school in 1932. After working for a machinery company during the Depression, Day joined the Dallas Police Department in 1940. Interrupted by a three-year sting in the navy during World War Two, he returned to his patrol assignment and was promoted to detective in the Homicide and Robbery Bureau in 1947 under Captain Fritz. The following year Day transferred to the Identification Bureau. Upon promotion to lieutenant in 1954, he joined the newly formed Crime Lab within the Identification Bureau and remained in that position upon Kennedy's arrival in Dallas.
I was in the office of the Crime Lab on
the fourth floor of City Hall when the parade passes City Hall a Harwood and
turned west on Main. I was busy and didn't see it. A few minutes later I
received a call that the President had been shot, and I went with Detective
Studebaker to the Book Depository. It took about ten minutes to get to the
scene. Since there wasn't any place to park on the street, I parked on the
sidewalk in front of the building where Inspector Sawyer was standing by and
appeared to be in charge of the scene. There was a lot of confusion; people were
We went on inside the building through the front door and were directed to the sixth floor where we were advised that the shooting had supposedly occurred. We took the elevator at the front, but as I recall, that elevator only went to the second floor. There we met Mr. Truly, and he directed us to the elevator at the back which took us up to the sixth floor to a window at the southeast corner of the building. There, behind some boxes of books stacked up, were three spent hulls, apparently ejected by a gun, laying around on the floor under the window being guarded by a detective. That's all I found, just three.
We put powder on them but were unable to find any legible fingerprints, which was understandable because it's hard to have prints on hulls or shells because of the skewed area there. Sometimes you can find them, most times you don't, so was wasn't surprised that we didn't find any. I turned one of the hulls over to one of Captain Fritz's detectives and kept the other two. Later I marked only the two that I kept at that time.
We hadn't been in that area taking photographs and processing the hulls more than then minutes or so when Captain Fritz called me back to the opposite corner of the building from where the shooting occurred, diagonally across and close to the freight elevators, where they had found the rifle. It was laying flat stuck down in the crack between some boxes. It had apparently not been located prior to that. No one had picked it up, so I'm reasonably sure that I was the next person who handled it after Oswald. We made photos of that and then I picked it up.
Through a casual examination, I didn't see any markings on it at that time. All I was trying to do was to get it up without destroying any fingerprints to see if there was a live round in it. I wasn't making a close examination on it there; there just wasn't anyplace to do it.
I had examined lots of rifles, picked them up and so forth, but I wasn't familiar with that particular gun. It appeared to be a cheap wartime gun with a telescopic sight and kind of a worn leather strap on it. There were a lot of those flooding into the country for many years after the war. You could tell by looking that there could be no fingerprints on that strap. I'd been handling those for a long time, and you could tell just by looking at it that it was too rough to get any fingerprints. So I picked it up by the strap, took fingerprint powder and tried to put it on the little knob on the bolt. It was just a small area; the chance of getting any fingerprints off of it were practically nil, but you couldn't do anything but try. I put powder on the know and examined it with the glass, but there was nothing visible at all. So I held the rifle by the strap in such a way that Captain Fritz could open the bolt. When he opened it, a live round fell out.
Just looking at it I thought the chances were slim that we'd find any prints on the rifle itself. It had what we call a wartime finish on the barrel which would lift out of the stock. That type of surface didn't take prints well, nor did the wood stock which was too coarse or rough. You've got to have a smooth, fairly clean surface before the ridges will leave an impression. If it's rougher than the ridges of the finger, you're not going to find anything there.
At that time, just through casual observation, it didn't look too promising. It wasn't the place to try to do any fingerprint work since it's a rather lengthy process and we had other things to do. So I decided to carry the gun back to the office at City Hall, store it under lock and key, examine it under ideal conditions, and get to it when I could. I didn't have anything to wrap it up with at the time, so I carried it out making sure that I didn't touch anything other than the strap. Besides, you had to be careful in wrapping stuff because if there were any prints, you're liable to smear them just from the wrapping.
By that time, there were photographers and newsmen running all over the place. When I went out the door, there were a lot of cameras flashing. I told Inspector Sawyer, who was still there, that I needed a ride to City Hall. An FBI man, whose car was parked nearby, volunteered to drive me. Up until that time, I was unaware of the condition of the President, only that he had been shot. During the ride back to City Hall I asked the FBI man, "How bad is he hit?"
He replied, "The President is dead!" That was the first knowledge that I had that it was a fatal shot. Of course, I was very depressed, but it was just another shooting. We had hundreds of them which required investigation and speculation. Meanwhile, he transmitted the numbers which were found on the rifle to the FBI office and took me on to City Hall. There was hardly anybody there at the time. We drove in the basement, and I went up the jail elevator to my office.
The Identification Bureau was located at one end of the fourth floor which was not accessible to reporters or the general public. Within the Identification Bureau, we had an evidence room which had individual boxes where you could lock things up. The key to the whole room was available to all the officers in the bureau, but only Captain Doughty and myself had a key to the evidence box. It was there that I locked the rifle up and returned to the School Book Depository where we tried to continue our investigation.
Primarily, Studebaker and I were taking photos and checking for prints on the sixth floor. There were two boxes side by side aligned which would be just right for a man to sit on them and look out the window down below where the parade went. I don't know whether they were there prior to the shooting or not, but they were in a position that it was inconvenient to sit on while he was looking out. There were other boxes which were stacked on ends. It looked like they kind of made a shield around the window so that the blocked off the view of the window from the other part of the floor. Supposedly that's the way was it was at the time of the shooting. I don't know whether anybody had moved anything or not; however, there had been a lot of prowling around up there. Of course, hindsight is always better than foresight; certainly nothing should have been moved, but it's possible that some of the stuff could have been moved while they were searching before I got there.
When I talked to the Warren Commission, they showed me a picture that had been taken by somebody, and it showed that those boxes didn't seem as though they were in the same position that I found them. That picture was taken from the outside and didn't exactly jibe with what I found on the inside. But the whole building had officers running all over trying to find where the shots came from. There were too many people running around!
One of those boxes near the window had a palm print on it. Looking out the window, it was in just the right place where you'd rest your palm if you were sitting on a box. We used a metallic powder and got a palm print which later turned out to be Oswald's.
All those boxes which had his fingerprints on them didn't mean that much to me at the time because the man worked there and handled the boxes. I didn't take all those with me. The prints that we got from the box he was sitting on meant something to me because there weren't any prints on the side of it, just on the top of the corner, indicating that he had not picked it up during the normal course of work. We just tore that off and didn't take the whole box with us.
Also found on the sixth floor, as I recall, near the shell area, was a paper bag. It should have been photographed, but for some reason, apparently wasn't. The story that I received later was that when this man came to work that morning he was carrying something wrapped in shipping or wrapping paper or brown roll paper. In the shipping room on the first floor, there were one or two rolls of that paper. We took the end pieces off those rolls for possible comparison with the bag that was found. It would have been a tedious job, but on other cases I've had occasion to match the ends of two pieces of paper. If you can find the right place, they'll match up, even if it's torn off. We had possession of the bag, but I didn't have a chance to work with it due to events that later occurred.
During the course of the investigation at the School Book Depository, an officer came in and said they'd found a skid mark close to a manhole cover on Elm Street directly in line of the shots. So I went down there maybe 150 or more feet from the window. Then there was a rumor that somebody was supposed to have heard a shell zipping by on that railroad track. In any case, one of the officers found a place by that manhole cover that looked like something might have either hit or bounced. It could have been a skid mark from a slug; it could have been some other kind of mark; it could have been a tool of some sort. Whatever it was we took a little sample of the concrete and sent it to the laboratory to see if there might have been any trace of lead from a slug. If I remember correctly, they found nothing. Several months later I think somebody went down there and cut that chunk out.
It was around 6:00 or 7:00 by the time I got back to City Hall. Captain Fritz, of course, was wanting information about the rifle. So I got it out, made photographs, and started examining it as well as I could to see whether there were any fingerprints on it. It was pretty rough. I applied powder to it; there was nothing on the stock. Around the trigger guard there was a trace of a print which showed. It wasn't very legible, just traces there. While we were trying to photograph that, Chief Curry came in and wanted to know what we were doing. I explained and told him that it didn't look too promising, or words to that effect.
During the process, lo and behold, thirty minutes later somebody said that a radio report said we had found a fingerprint on it. I don't know where that came from because I hadn't found any fingerprints to tell anything about. Then, when I was adjusting the thing, down under the bottom of the barrel, right at the edge of the wood stock where the barrel projected beyond the stock, there was a trace of a print. I could see it when the light shined just right. It was an old print. The powder wasn't sticking to it, so the print apparently had been there a long time, or at least long enough for it to have dried out.
I got the barrel removed from the stock and applied powder to the bottom of the barrel. The print still had a small amount of oil on it because the powder clung to it a little. When the barrel was removed, I noticed more of that print which had been concealed by the stock. Obviously someone had had the mechanism out of the stock laying in his hand. I tried to lift it with scotch tape and it came off dimly. By then I had Oswald's palm prints, and just at a quick glance, it looked like it was his. I didn't go far enough with it to get on the witness stand and say absolutely that it was his print, but it looked like it was through the preliminary examination.
The procedure that we used to lift prints was fairly simple. The best way to check anything that is not a porous surface is with powder, which clings to the oil that might be present with the fingers. You just brush it on and it'll float all around. But it was also very messy. I'd come home after answering calls with powder all over my shirt, in my nose and ears, and everywhere else. But you'd take some black powder and brush it over the area where you hoped there was a print. You don't always leave prints. If you've got dirty hands or a dry hand, you won't leave a print. Many people don't leave prints when they touch something. When you locate the print, after the powder has been applied, you put scotch tape on it, mash it down, and the powder will cling to the tape. Then, when you pull the tape off, put it on a card with a white background, and then you've got the print where you can take the tape on the card back to the office for examination with a glass. That's the procedure I used with I lifted the print off the bottom of the barrel.
But I still wasn't satisfied with the lift because it was pretty dim. By turning the rifle and letting the light shine on it, I could still see that print on the barrel. To take the proper pictures, you have to set a time exposure on the camera and move the light which reflects around the barrel because you can't twist the barrel while you're taking pictures. I was in the process of doing that when I got word from one of my captains, which came directly from the chief's office, not to do anything else. Right in the middle of the stream I was told not to do anything else with it! So I slipped the barrel back on the stock and put it back in the lock box.
Of course, I was dealing in a vital area here, the physical evidence. It was very important to do all you could to do the work properly. Hundreds of times, in other shootings, it was just another shooting as far as the investigation was concerned. But the difference here was the national publicity and the confusion surrounding it which limited our opportunity for doing our work exactly as it should have been done.
Somewhere in the course of time, Captain Fritz came in needing information badly down on the third floor. He said that he had Marina down in his office and wanted her to look at the gun to see if she could identify it. He said, "There's a lot of people down there, and I don't want to bring her out into the crowd." Well, that meant that I had to take the gun through the crowd. I didn't want to wrap it up and really didn't realize what kind of crowd he was talking about down there. I thought there were just a few people hanging around like there usually was. So I just picked the gun up by the strap again and went on the elevator with him down to the third floor.
When we opened the door, man, there was a mob out there! I didn't know whether to run back upstairs or what! If I had realized how many people were there, I would have done something besides show that gun. It was definitely a poor way to handle evidence! But I was already into this, so he cleared the way into his office which wasn't far. She was sitting across the room while I held the rifle and was answering some questions which I couldn't hear. Then I took the gun back upstairs through the crowd. There was nothing harmed, but again, it wasn't the proper way to handle it. It was just one of those confusing things that was happening at the time.
Captain Fritz came back a little later and had run across the chief of police. He told me to go ahead and start again on what I had been doing with the gun, which I did. Before I got the picture made, another message came in: "Drop everything! Don't do anything else!" This came through my captain, Captain Doughty, but it probably came to him from Deputy Chief Lumpkin. So we didn't complete what we were trying to do. I'd probably have been working on it all night if I'd had the time.
Around 11:30 that night I received orders which merely said, "Release the rifle to the FBI." Shortly thereafter I handed it over to Vince Drain of the FBI.
I told him, "There's a trace of a print here" and showed him where it was. It was just a verbal communication to him. I didn't have time to make any written reports; I just gave it to him and he signed for it without saying anything. I don't remember whether he wrapped it up with anything or not, but he took it on to Washington that night.
It's a funny thing about that. We had a few other items around such as some of his clothes and paper off the roll at the Book Depository that we didn't do anything else with. I didn't send the card lift, either. They told me not to do anything else, so I didn't even look at it again. There was some friction somewhere. I never quite understood how all that happened, but it was a confusing thing.
Later, all the stuff that was sent to Washington came back to us. The rifle came back in a wooden box but we didn't open it. We were told just to hold it, so I put it in our evidence room and locked it up. We held that stuff a few days then we got an order to release everything to the FBI: the gun, the box, everything we had. At that time, I then released the card with the lifted print. So they took it all back to Washington.
Included in what was released were the two hulls I had collected at the School Book Depository. I didn't have in my possession the third hull, and there was some confusion there when I testified to the Warren Commission. That was the one which Captain Fritz retained and did not have my initials on it. The other two I could identify, but I couldn't identify the third since my initials were not on it. There were the initials GMD there, which were those of Captain Doughty, my captain. I later learned that what had happened was that he had marked it when it was released. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it: there wasn't a substituted third hull. It was just one of those slips in the confusion.
About four or five days later, an FBI man rolled up at the house and wanted to know where I had gotten the palm print. In Washington, they didn't find any prints on the gun at all. I don't know why they didn't locate that piece of print that I thought was still there. However, if I had received it with powder all over it, I probably would have thrown up my hands because somebody else had been messing with it. I suspect that's what happened with the man in Washington. There were too many irons in the fire, too many fingers in the pie! But anyway, they didn't find any prints, or didn't find that one or were unable to do anything with what I thought was on there. It may have been that there wasn't enough there, but I thought I could still see it.
But anyway, I sent this palm print on the card to Washington. Of course, they identified it as Oswald's, but they thought that I had gotten it off the gun after it had been sent back to us, which wasn't true. So they were in kind of a stew. They thought their man in Washington had missed the print. After I explained what had happened, I guess that got him off the hook.
Prior to the assassination we had always had excellent relations with all the FBI men. Some of them I'd worked with for years. But there was friction between the police department and the FBI for a year or two after that. During the early course of the investigation, they couldn't make up their minds who was going to do what. I still got along fine because I worked with them, but with the higher-ups they seemed to have gotten crossways. Chief Curry was supposed to have been perturbed with the FBI for not letting them know that Oswald was in town. Hell, I don't see any reason for getting crossways with anybody about it, but it did happen. I never quite understood how all that happened; it was a confusing thing.
The great problem with the investigation was that there were too many people involved. The Dallas Police Department and the Texas courts had jurisdiction. Since it was not against federal law to shoot the President at that time, the FBI, the national police force, didn't really have any jurisdiction, and as a result had not been in on the original investigation. Taking it up after it had already started, it looks to me like they would have been at a handicap getting the evidence second hand. To me, it would have been much better if this investigation would have been handled in a routine manner all the way through without all the confusion. But other people such as the Secret Service were also vitally interested. We tried to cooperate with them, especially Forrest Sorrels, in every way we could. But there were too many sitting on the side just trying to get information for their future. But again, there were too many fingers in the pie. It was hard to conduct an investigation where you had such confusion.
Captain Fritz was frustrated in trying to make his investigation because he wasn’t allowed to handle it in the way it should have been handled. The old man was an excellent investigator, an excellent interrogator, and had been doing that work for many years. He wasn’t very good with filling out reports or other paper work; he had somebody else do that for him. But I think that he would have worked things out and that we would have had a case to present in the trial. We had the facilities here to make the investigation, and if we didn’t, we used the FBI laboratory or the state laboratory in Austin. It would have been a convincing case and would have gotten a conviction as far as the murder was concerned if Oswald hadn’t been killed in their custody.
Another study of note was the slug recovered at General Walker’s house. Several months prior to the assassination one of our men got a call at the office and went to Walker’s house. Someone had fired a slug, apparently at his shadow, through the window from the grounds outside. The slug was dug out of the wall and brought back to our office as evidence. It had been in our possession from that time until the assassination. We didn’t have any idea who had fired it or what gun had been used. We could do nothing else with it until something else developed. Of course, we didn’t know about Oswald at that time, but it was apparently the same type ammunition as Oswald’s. That was eventually turned over to the FBI, which ran the tests, and as I understand, was identified as having come from that gun, though I have never seen the written report.
Paraffin tests were also run on Oswald, which was standard procedure at that time. Theoretically, back in those days, if you fired a gun, nitrates will come out and get on your hands, especially from a revolver. With a rifle, you don’t have that. As the bolt moves down in the barrel, you don’t have the spraying of nitrates. But, to be on the safe side, especially since he had fired a gun at Tippit, we did make the paraffin test. One of the boys became overzealous and also made a test on the side of his face. But you wouldn’t expect to find any powder there from shooting a gun. Now they’ve done away with all those tests because they figured that weren’t reliable since nitrates could come from other sources such as urine or fertilizer. We used it for many years and, to me, it’s still a fairly valid test. If you take a man, for instance, who has specks of nitrates on his right hand and that’s the only place, and he’s supposed to have shot a revolver with that right hand, then that test means something to me. It’s entirely probable that he did fire a gun. Now they have another type of test which they claim is better. In the last years I was there, we were furnished a small kit that we put something on their hands instead of paraffin.
I didn’t work on Saturday, but that Sunday morning, the 24th, Mr. Truly had given me a key to the School Book Depository so that we could take measurements of the whole floor and make diagrams of everything. I had one or two detectives with me. We were the only ones in the building, so it was pretty quiet, but I noticed that somebody had been taking pictures up there sometime between Friday and that Sunday morning as there was film all over the floor. About 11:15 or a little later I saw we were going to be up there a long time, so I called my daughter and told her to tell momma to take the beans off the fire because I wasn’t going to be there. She said, “Daddy, they done shot him!” I asked her what she was talking about and she replied, “Shot Oswald at the police station!”
I turned around, looked at the others and said, “Well, hell, let’s quite and go home.” We just threw up our hands and stopped what we were doing. I didn’t take any more of the boxes in for fingerprints. The Warren Commission had all those boxes that were stacked up there. Apparently they went back later and got them and prints were developed, some of them Oswald’s. But again, I don’t know what they proved. He worked in the place and handled the boxes during the normal course of work.
Another problem with the investigation, especially that weekend, was that there were reporters there from everywhere, all over the world and all of them wanting a story. They were printing anything that made a story: rumors or anything else; it didn’t make any difference what it was. And after it gets in print, many people accept it as fact.
A woman wrote me a letter from New York not long ago referring me to some newspaper account from the Dallas Times Herald which said something about a shell being found by a motorcycle officer or hitting a motorcycle, whatever it was, and she wanted to know about it. I told her that there wasn’t any such thing, that it was strictly a newspaper story. But it’s things like that that cause you to wonder what to believe. If you’ve ever been involved in anything that becomes a big story, sometimes you’ll have trouble recognizing the newspaper’s account from what you actually saw out there. They get all those things so fouled up!
When I came out of the Book Depository, walking with the FBI man who was taking me to the office, somebody asked me, “Is that a Mauser?” or at least words to that effect. I didn’t answer them. Thirty minutes later somebody on radio or television described it as a Mauser. Where that came from, I don’t know; it didn’t come from me. The only place I can figure was from some overzealous reporter. I didn’t know what I had other than it was a gun. I don’t remember any name being on the rifle. I never learned who identified it other than possibly it was through some FBI report about Oswald’s stuff that had been found and where he got it.
As far as I was concerned, there was no question in my mind that he was the man. The evidence stacked up, and I don’t think that there would have been any problem at all getting him convicted in court. We had the evidence necessary. But as far as conspiracy was concerned, I didn’t have much to do with that, though I don’t think there were any connections between Oswald and Ruby, nor could I see any credible evidence of a conspiracy. Oswald was too unreliable to work in a conspiracy. I got the impression that he was wanting to be a hero, or trying to, if he thought he could shoot the President and get to Cuba. He’d be a hero down there because they were having trouble with Castro at that time.
Rumors were flying at that time. One had it that the rifle was deliberately planted there to implicate Oswald. I don’t see how it could have been planted in the short time length there after the shooting. I do know that the gun that was delivered to the FBI and was at the Warren Commission was the same gun that I picked up on the sixth floor. It had my markings on it and was in my possession from the time I picked it up until I released it to Vince Drain. There’s no question whatsoever that it’s the same gun.
There was another rumor that Oswald got a job there to shoot the President. That won’t hold water! They know that he was having financial problems and people out in Irving felt sorry for him and helped him get a job at the School Book Depository. That was about six weeks before the assassination. If I remember correctly, the President was not scheduled to have a parade through Dallas when he came here. He was scheduled to go from the airport directly to the Market Hall where he was to give his speech. Oswald couldn’t have known that the man was going to come by the School Book Depository since it was just a few days before the arrival of the President that the plans were changed. I know that the police department was contacted and wanted to set up security for the parade route. This was just a few days before the assassination. The President was not scheduled to go by that building. So Oswald could not have known at the time he got the job that the President was ever coming by. That rumor just doesn’t stand up.
Some have complained about how the police department has been treated in regard to this case, but I haven’t noticed it. People in Paris and London and other places have written stories, and I can understand how they might feel about our local authorities. When Oswald was shot, it was just a series of unbelievable events. How in the world could a man just walk down into that basement and shoot the man when all the reporters were supposed to have press passes? Even now, when something happens, we wonder whether the police department might be involved, so I can see their point.
But again, despite all the rumors and speculation which have spread, I think we had enough convincing evidence to have gotten a conviction if circumstances hadn’t dictated otherwise.
Carl Day continued his work as a lieutenant in the Crime Lab until his retirement in 1977 and still lives in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.
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