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Oswald’s Revolver

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

“Brief history of the murder weapon used by Oswald”

Background of the Revolver

When Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in the Texas Theater in Dallas, on November 22, 1963, this revolver was in his hands during the struggle with Dallas Police Officers and Detectives.

This is the history of that .38 revolver and how Oswald obtained it to kill Dallas Police Patrolman, JD Tippit on 10th and Patton streets in Oak Cliff.

Photo Credit: National Archives

During WW-2, the Smith & Wesson Company began production of the “Victory” Military-Police (M&P) model .38 for the war effort in April, 1942. Due to a shortage of weapons in Britain, a vast majority of these 5” barrel models were shipped under the “Lend-Lease” program as British Service revolvers. They were designated as S&W .38-200 as per the British contract with Smith & Wesson.[1]

Photo Credit: GunAuction.Com

Original Smith & Wesson .38-200 Revolver

The original S&W bullets weighed approximately 157-158 grains (7,000 grain = 1 lb). The S&W .38-200 bullets weighed 200 grains, essentially a little heavier, but compatible with the chambering of the S&W Victory model .38.

The “Victory” name, of course was used as a WW-2 moniker. Each revolver was stamped on the butt plate with the serial number and “V” on either side of the lanyard ring. Smith and Wesson never repeated “like” serial numbers.

This model is identical to Oswald’s.

When the Brits received these revolvers from the U.S., they were tested and approved for service in the Birmingham Proof House in England. Part of the testing was to load each chamber in the cylinder with “overloaded cartridges” for firing reliability. In this case, it was tested to 3-1/2 tons (stamped on Oswald’s revolver barrel). Evidence of this British Service Revolver is on Oswald’s weapon.[2]

Photo Credit: National Archives

Birmingham Proof Marks on Oswald’s Revolver

As per U.S. Ordnance records, a total of 590,305 of these British S&W .38-200 were produced from October 1941 to March 1945 (Some were manufactured before April 1942). [1]

Oswald’s revolver serial number was “V-510210”.This might have suggested it was shipped near the end of the war, although Smith & Wesson production records would need to be verified for accuracy.

Photo Credit: National Archives

Serial number on Oswald’s Revolver [3]

From England to Dallas

Upon completion of WW-2, large amounts of these weapons were exported back and sold upon the open market in the U.S. and all over the world. Most of the weapons were of course in well used condition and often had to be re-worked to be sold in good operating condition. This revolver was no exception.

Origins of Oswald’s revolver story begin when he was arrested in the Texas Theater.

Dallas Police officer M.N. McDonald was attempting to arrest Oswald in the Texas Theater, when a struggle ensued. McDonald ordered Oswald to stand up out of his theater seat, when he did; he struck McDonald and pulled out his revolver from his waist band. Other officers joined in the struggle and McDonald managed to get his hand on the revolver, either the barrel or on the hammer negating the firing of the weapon. Oswald was handcuffed and whisked out of the theater past an angry mob of Oak Cliff spectators. Detective Bob Carroll took possession of the revolver and handed it over to Dallas Police Sgt. Gerald Hill who was in the patrol car to the ride downtown Police Station.

Since the FBI had no jurisdiction in the Officer Tippit murder, they assisted the Dallas Police with information regarding the weapon. First and foremost, they wanted to know where Oswald bought the revolver.

Questioning a few Texas gun shops and dealers, a tip came through that this revolver may have been through a mail-order house, specifically George F. Rose, from David Goldstein (Dave’s House of Guns) on Elm Street in Dallas. David was the son of “Rocky Goldstein” who ran the famous “Honest Joe’s Pawnshop”. It is not known if this was the tip that led them to the Seaport Traders (mail order division of the George F. Rose Company) in Los Angeles, California. Another FBI memo states an interview with Heinz Michaelis, Office Manager of the George F. Rose Company (Seaport Traders) on November 30, 1963 (Friday).[4]

The Goldstein tip FBI report was dated December 2, 1963 (Monday). It’s conceivable that the local Dallas FBI just telephoned Los Angeles and the Dallas report was typed up the following Monday.

A local L.A. FBI agent was dispatched to question Seaport Traders if they had a record of this revolver, serial number and purchase either through the Oswald or Hidell name.

They did, and furnished the following documentation: an order coupon placed in a magazine with the Hidell name and a shipping manifest through Railway Express (licensed weapon carrier). It was a C.O.D purchase of $29.95, with $10 cash as a down payment, and the remainder to be paid upon delivery.

Further link to Oswald was the P.O. Box 2915, which was opened by him in Dallas in October, 1962.[5]

Warren Commission Exhibit 135

Michaelis Exhibit 2 Warren Commission

The Los Angeles FBI dug further and tried to determine where that revolver originated from. From records provided by Michaelis, it was discovered that the Oswald revolver was part of a shipment purchase from Empire Wholesale Sporting Goods in Montreal, Canada.

A confidential informant for the FBI stated that the Empire Wholesale Sporting Goods company in Montreal was acting as a sales agent for the International Firearms Company, LTD, also based in Montreal. He further stated that International Firearms routinely imported guns as military surplus from England.[6]

Since it was established that the International Firearms Company in Montreal imported these S&W .38-200 revolvers from England, the question remains, who rechambered the revolver to handle .38 Specials?

First of all, let’s provide some basic facts to the rechambering of the revolver. As stated earlier, the S&W Victory model revolver was compatible with the original S&W .38 cartridges and the British S&W .38-200’s. When it was shipped to the George F. Rose Company in Los Angeles, it had already been rechambered for .38 Special cartridges with the original 5” barrel.

Since the WW-2 era, in the U.S., the .38 special bullets became increasingly popular. The older S&W .38 bullets fell out of favor due to the superior velocity of the .38 specials. In the case of the Tippit murder, two brands (or manufacturers) were used; Remington-Peters and Winchester-Western. In the U.S. bullets, specifications of the .38 specials are tied to the muzzle velocity, and are essentially the same (or near same) dimensions, grain weight and powder charge. Due to the demand of revolvers that could shoot the .38 specials, it was not unusual for gunsmiths to rechamber the older models to accept .38 special bullets.

To rechamber the old S&W chamber to the .38 specials, the chamber was bored out “length-wise” to accept the longer .38 specials by several 1,000ths. In Oswald’s revolver, that was the case.

Diameter-wise, the .38 Specials were 4/1000ths smaller than the original S&W .38-200 barrel. The chamber(s) were not bored out diameter-wise, only length-wise.[7]

To sum it up, the .38 special bullets were slightly undersized in the barrel and chamber in Oswald’s revolver. Due to this fact, often the cartridges (or shells) would be “bulged slightly” after firing. In Oswald’s case, you can see this clearly.

Photo Credit: National Archives

“Bulging of spent shells found at the Tippit Murder Scene”

It is unknown to this author where Oswald’s revolver was re-chambered. The only modifications performed by the George F. Rose Company (Seaport Traders) were to shorten the barrel from 5” down to 2-1/2”(some reports state 2-1/4”) and re-install the fixed sight on the barrel (performed by local gunsmith in Van Nuys, California), then market the revolver under the “Commando” name.[8] Whether the gun was re-chambered in England or in Canada is anyone’s guess. My personal speculation would be in Canada by the International Firearms Company, through a local gunsmith.

Photo Credit: National Archives

“Seaport Traders cut in barrel at the first “S” in “Wesson”

Other Interesting Facts

1. Oswald’s Revolver was “re-gripped”. The Smith & Wesson assembly number was “65248”. The numbers on the grips are “74149”.[9]

2. Oswald’s Revolver had a single (manual pulling back hammer) and double action (pulling trigger). The single pull weight was measured at 3-1/2 lbs. The double pull weight was measured at 10-1/4 lbs. Both measurements were performed by Monty C. Lutz, independent firearm specialist for the Wisconsin Regional Crime Laboratory. It was determined that the revolver did not have a “hair trigger”.

3. Four spent shells were recovered near the Tippit Shooting. They were determined exclusively to come from Oswald’s Revolver.

4. Upon capture, the revolver was examined and it was fully loaded with three .38 Special Winchester-Western’s and three .38 Special Remington-Peters, all live rounds. Also he had five additional .38 Special Winchester-Western live rounds in his pocket.

5. After 56+ years, it was a mystery what magazine Oswald ordered his revolver using the Seaport Traders coupon. Recently (in 2020) some co-researchers and I worked on this project, and Chris Simondet discovered it. It is undeniably ironclad. It was a surprise to find what magazine it was in. You can read the whole account in Dale K. Myers’ excellent website Here

Credit: Chris Simondet

“Original Seaport Traders ad that Oswald ordered from”

6. Strangely enough, Oswald backdated the Seaport Traders coupon for January 27, 1963. With the discovery of the magazine, we now know that was not the case. It now strongly suggests that Oswald ordered the Seaport Revolver close (if not the same day) to the time he ordered his Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5 mm carbine from a Klein’s ad in the February 1963 issue of American Rifleman in March 1963.

7. Questions arise about how Oswald received his revolver in Dallas. The answer is pretty simple. Seaport Traders shipped the revolver via Railway Express. Since there was $19.95 due upon receipt (C.O.D.), Railway Express would collect the remainder and hand it over to Oswald. Of course we know Oswald used his P.O. Box as an address. Railway Express would simply drop off or mail a notice to his P.O. Box to pick it up.

But Where?

Railway Express had a terminal at the Union Railway Station in Dallas, not far from his work (Jaggers-Chiles-Stovall). Local Dallas KRLD Newsman Eddie Barker did this himself in 1968 Here. It should be noted Oswald worked overtime on the Saturday before at Jaggers-Chiles-Stovall) before he purchase the Mannlicher-Carcano Carbine on Tuesday, March 12, 1963.

8. How did Oswald pick up the revolver at the Railway Express terminal when he ordered it in the “A.J. Hidell” name? Oswald had fabricated a crude fake ID using the Hidell name, most likely at Jaggers-Chiles-Stovall.

Warren Commission Exhibit 796

“Oswald’s Fake Hidell ID Card

1 - American Rifleman, “V is for Victory: The Smith and Wesson Victory Model Revolver”, Bruce N. Canfield

2 - Warren Commission Testimony of Cortlandt Cunningham, page 453 Here

3 - The initials “PB” that are etched on the Butt Plate strip were most likely Paul Bentley, one of the arresting Dallas Police officers. The lanyard ring screw hole has been filled in

4 - FBI Internal Memo, December 2, 1963 Here

5 - FBI Internal Memo, November 30, 1963 Here

6 - FBI Internal Memo, December 5, 1963 Here

7 - Warren Commission Testimony of Cortlandt Cunningham, pages 454-456 Here

8 - FBI Internal Memo, November 30, 1963, Heinz Michaelis inquiry Here

9 - FBI Gemberling Report, November 30, 1963, Warren Commission Document #5 Here

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