Marina Oswald

Marina Oswald


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Marina Prusakova was born in Molotovsk on July 17, 1941. She lived with her mother and stepfather until 1957 when she moved to Minsk where she lived with her uncle, Ilya Prusakova, who worked at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD).

Marina worked as a pharmacy worker in a local hospital and in February, 1959, met Lee Harvey Oswald at the city dance hall. Six weeks later the couple got married. The following year the couple had a daughter.

Oswald soon became disillusioned with life in the Soviet Union and in June, 1962, he was given permission to take his wife and baby daughter to the United States.

The Oswald family settled in Fort Worth, Texas. Later the family lived in Dallas and New Orleans. Oswald also became active in left-wing politics and joined the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Marina later claimed that on 12th April, 1963, Oswald attempted to assassinate General Edwin Walker, a right-wing political leader. She reported that she "asked him what happened, and he said that he just tried to shoot General Walker. I asked him who General Walker was. I mean how dare you to go and claim somebody's life, and he said "Well, what would you say if somebody got rid of Hitler at the right time? So if you don't know about General Walker, how can you speak up on his behalf?." Because he told me... he was something equal to what he called him a fascist."

In September, 1963, Marina Oswald moved to Dallas to have her second child. Lee Harvey Oswald apparently traveled to Mexico City where he visited the Cuban Embassy and attempted to get permission to travel to Cuba. His application was turned down and after trying to get a visa for the Soviet Union he arrived in Dallas in October, 1963. Marina and June were living with a woman called Ruth Paine. Oswald rented a room in Dallas and with the help of Paine, he found a job at the Texas School Book Depository.

On 22nd November, 1963, President John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas. It was decided that Kennedy and his party, including his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Governor John Connally and Senator Ralph Yarborough, would travel in a procession of cars through the business district of Dallas. A pilot car and several motorcycles rode ahead of the presidential limousine. As well as Kennedy the limousine included his wife, John Connally, his wife Nellie, Roy Kellerman, head of the Secret Service at the White House and the driver, William Greer. The next car carried eight Secret Service Agents. This was followed by a car containing Lyndon Johnson and Ralph Yarborough.

At about 12.30 p.m. the presidential limousine entered Elm Street. Soon afterwards shots rang out. John F. Kennedy was hit by bullets that hit him in the head and the left shoulder. Another bullet hit John Connally in the back. Ten seconds after the first shots had been fired the president's car accelerated off at high speed towards Parkland Memorial Hospital. Both men were carried into separate emergency rooms. Connally had wounds to his back, chest, wrist and thigh. Kennedy's injuries were far more serious. He had a massive wound to the head and at 1 p.m. he was declared dead.

Witnesses at the scene of the assassination claimed they had seen shots being fired from behind a wooden fence on the Grassy Knoll and from the Texas School Book Depository. The police investigated these claims and during a search of the Texas School Book Depository they discovered on the floor by one of the sixth floor windows, three empty cartridge cases. They also found a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle hidden beneath some boxes.

Lee Harvey Oswald was seen in the Texas School Book Depository before (11.55 a.m.) and just after (12.31 p.m.) the shooting of John F. Kennedy. At 12.33 Oswald was seen leaving the building and by 1.00 p.m arrived at his lodgings. His landlady, Earlene Roberts, later reported that soon afterwards a police car drew up outside the house and sounded the horn twice and moved on. Roberts claimed that Oswald now left the building.

At 1.16 p.m. J. D. Tippet, a Dallas policeman, approached a man, later identified as Oswald, walking along East 10th Street. A witness later testified that after a short conversation Oswald pulled out a hand gun and fired a number of shots at Tippet. Oswald run off leaving the dying Tippet on the ground.

Twenty minutes later, Johnny Brewer, a manager of a shoe shop, saw a man (Oswald) who appeared to be hiding from passing police cars. He called the police after he saw the man enter a cinema. When the police arrived Brewer accompanied the officers into the cinema where he pointed out the man he had seen acting in a suspicious manner. After a brief struggle Oswald was arrested.

The police soon found out that Lee Harvey Oswald worked at the Texas Book Depository. They also discovered his palm print on the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that was found earlier that day. Other evidence emerged that suggested that Oswald had been involved in the killing of John F. Oswald's hand prints were found on the book cartons and the brown paper bag. Charles Givens, a fellow worker, testified that he saw Oswald on the sixth floor at 11.55 a.m. Another witness, Howard Brennan, claimed he saw Oswald holding a rifle at the sixth floor window.

The police also discovered that the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was purchased under the name A. Hiddell. When he was arrested, the police found that Oswald was carrying a forged identity card bearing the name Alek Hiddell. The rifle had been sent by the mail order company from Chicago to P.O. Box 2915, Dallas, Texas. The Post Office box belonged to Oswald.

While being interrogated by the Dallas Police, Oswald denied he had been involved in the killing of Kennedy. He claimed that he was a "patsy" (a term used by the Mafia to describe someone set up to take the punishment for a crime they did not commit).

On 24th November, 1963, the Dallas Police decided to transfer to Lee Harvey Oswald to the county jail. As Oswald was led through the basement of police headquarters a man rushed forward and shot him in the stomach. The gunman was quickly arrested by police officers. Lee Harvey Oswald died soon afterwards. The man who killed him was later identified as being Jack Ruby.

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy Marina was taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and kept at the Inn of the Six Flags Hotel. Threatened with deportation, she agreed to give the authorities all the information she had. Some of this was information was later used by the Warren Commission to suggest that her husband was the lone assassin.

In 1965 Marina married Dallas carpenter, Kenneth Porter and went to live in Richardson, Texas with her two daughters and her new husband. Later she gave birth to a son.

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the journalist Priscilla Johnson befriended Marina Oswald, and the two spent considerable time together. According to Johnson, she spent thirteen years researching Marina and Lee, before it was published in 1977.

At first Marina accepted the truth of the Warren Commission but over the years she has began to question the role her husband played in the killing of John F. She was especially influenced by the House Select Committee on Assassinations report published in 1979.

In an interview she gave to the Ladies Home Journal in September 1988 she argued: ''I'm not saying that Lee is innocent, that he didn't know about the conspiracy or was not a part of it, but I am saying he's not necessarily guilty of murder. At first, I thought that Jack Ruby (who killed Oswald two days after the assassination) was swayed by passion; all of America was grieving. But later, we found that he had connections with the underworld. Now, I think Lee was killed to keep his mouth shut.''

Marina added: '' I believe he worked for the American government... He was taught the Russian language when he was in the military. Do you think that is usual, that an ordinary soldier is taught Russian? Also, he got in and out of Russia quite easily, and he got me out quite easily.''

Marina later remarried and became known as Marina Oswald Porter. In the 1990s she became involved in a campaign to clear the name if her former husband. In April 1996 she wrote that : "At the time of the assassination of this great president whom I loved, I was misled by the "evidence" presented to me by government authorities and I assisted in the conviction of Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin. From the new information now available, I am now convinced that he was an FBI informant and believe that he did not kill President Kennedy."

James McDonald: Did he say why he left the United States? Did he tell you or anyone in your presence?

Marina Oswald: I do not recall that.

James McDonald: Do you recall asking him why he was in Russia?

Marina Oswald: I do not remember if I asked him at that particular evening.

James McDonald: Did he tell you where in the United States he was from?

Marina Oswald: No.

James McDonald: Can you recall when he first expressed any political views to you?

Marina Oswald: Not really. The politics really weren't discussed in the sense comparing two countries, which one is better.

James McDonald: Did he ever tell you he was a Communist?

Marina Oswald: No.

James McDonald: Or a Marxist?

Marina Oswald: No.

James McDonald: Or a Trotskyite?

Marina Oswald: No.

James McDonald: Before or after you got married, can you recall what political views he was expressing to you then?

Marina Oswald: Well, the political views never have been emphasized in the relationship at all.

James McDonald: When do you recall he first told you why he left the United States to come to Russia?

Marina Oswald: So anyway he said that being young, he just wanted to see - I mean he read something about Soviet Union and he wanted to see for himself what life looked like in Soviet Union.

James McDonald: Do you recall him expressing dissatisfaction with the United States?

Marina Oswald: No, I do not recall, not at that moment, I mean not at the beginning of the relationship, if he was saying something for or against the United States.

James McDonald: You are saying at the beginning of your relationship you don't recall him saying anything for or against the United States?

Marina Oswald: No.

James McDonald: When do you recall him first expressing opinions against the United States?

Marina Oswald: A few months after the marriage when I found out that he is wishing to return to his homeland. Then he started complaining about the bad weather in Russia and how eager he will be to go back.

James McDonald: Can you recall Oswald expressing at this time, soon after your marriage but prior to the return, prior to your return to the United States, do you recall him expressing any views about the United States and its political system, either pro or con, for or against.

Marina Oswald: No.

James McDonald: And specifically regarding John Kennedy?

Marina Oswald: What I learned about John Kennedy it was only through Lee practically, and he always spoke very complimentary about the President. He was very happy when John Kennedy was elected.

James McDonald: And you are saying while you were still in the Soviet Union he was very complimentary about John Kennedy?

Marina Oswald: Yes, it seemed like he was talking about how young and attractive the President of the United States is.

James McDonald: Can you recall during this time when he ever expressed any contrary views about Kennedy?

Marina Oswald: Never.

James McDonald: Did you ever ask him directly why did you come to the U.S.S.R.?

Marina Oswald: I probably did.

James McDonald: Can you recall what his answer was?

Marina Oswald: Well, he said that he was always curious about Soviet Union, and he bought tourist visa. I asked him how did he got in the United States, I mean to Soviet Union, I am sorry. He said that he bought visa or whatever you call it, asked for permit to enter the country through Finland as a tourist, and then he asked to stay.

Richardson Preyer: Did you ever suspect that Lee might be a spy of some sort for either the Soviet KGB or for the U.S. CIA?

Marina Oswald: It did cross my mind sometime during our life in Russia; yes, because he will be sitting with those papers and writing something in English, and I don't know. Maybe he was making reports to somebody and didn't want me to know.

Richardson Preyer: When it crossed your mind, did you think he was a spy for the United States or for the Soviet Union?

Marina Oswald: For United States.

Richardson Preyer: And you based that on the fact that he often was writing notes in English which you did not understand.

Marina Oswald: Yes.

Marina Oswald told the Warren Commission that the rifle found on the sixth floor was "the fateful rifle of Lee Oswald." This statement is meaningless, since Marina Oswald's expertise in firearms identification included her inability even to distinguish between a rifle and a shotgun. She also testified that she heard Oswald practice operating the bolt action of his rifle. The commission produced no evidence to verify that Marina Oswald was able to distinguish the sound of this particular rifle, to the exclusion of all other weapons.

She also told the commission that the rifle was wrapped up inside a blanket in the garage of the home in Irving, Texas, where she lived between 24 September and 22 November 1963. The owners of the Irving home, Ruth and Michael Paine, both testified they had actually picked up the blanket and moved it around in the garage and were completely unaware that it contained a rifle. In a memorandum that the Warren Commission suppressed from its Report and from its twenty-six volumes of published evidence, J. Wesley Liebler, the commission counsel responsible for this section of the Warren Report, stated that "the fact is that not one person alive today (including Marina) ever saw that rifle in the Paine garage in such a way it could be identified as being that (Oswald's) rifle."

Twenty-five years after the assassination of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald's widow says she now believes Oswald did not act alone in the killing.

''I think he was caught between two powers - the government and organized crime,'' said Marina Oswald Porter in the November issue of Ladies' Home Journal, published Tuesday.

Testimony by Oswald's widow, who married Dallas carpenter Kenneth Porter in 1965, helped the Warren Commission conclude that a deranged Oswald acted alone in the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination.

''When I was questioned by the Warren Commission, I was a blind kitten,'' she said. The commission, appointed to investigate the assassination, concluded it was the work of a single gunman, Oswald. But in 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, relying in part on acoustical evidence, concluded that a conspiracy was likely and that it may have involved organized crime.

Since then, Porter, 47, has drawn new conclusions. ''I don't know if Lee shot him,'' she said. ''I'm not saying that Lee is innocent, that he didn't know about the conspiracy or was not a part of it, but I am saying he's not necessarily guilty of murder.''

''At first, I thought that Jack Ruby (who killed Oswald two days after the assassination) was swayed by passion; all of America was grieving,'' she said. ''But later, we found that he had connections with the underworld. Now, I think Lee was killed to keep his mouth shut.''

Porter said that in retrospect, Oswald seemed professionally schooled in secretiveness, ''and I believe he worked for the American government.''

''He was taught the Russian language when he was in the military. Do you think that is usual, that an ordinary soldier is taught Russian? Also, he got in and out of Russia quite easily, and he got me out quite easily,'' said the Russian-born Porter. She had emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1961 after marrying Oswald, who had defected to the Soviets and then changed his mind and returned to the United States.

In the months preceding the assassination, a man posing as Oswald reportedly appeared in several public places in the Dallas area.

''I learned afterward that someone who said he was Lee had been going around looking to buy a car, having a drink in a bar. I'm telling you, Lee did not drink, and he didn't know how to drive.

''And afterward, the FBI took me to a store in Fort Worth where Lee was supposed to have gone to buy a gun. Someone even described me and said I was with him. This woman was wearing a maternity outfit like one I had. But I had never been there,'' she said.

Porter said she hopes the truth will emerge when the Warren Commission materials are declassified.

''Look, I'm walking through the woods, trying to find a path, just like all of us,'' she said. ''The only difference is, I have a little bit of insight. Only half the truth has been told.''

I am writing to you regarding the release of still classified documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy and to my former husband, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Specifically, I am writing to ask about documents I have learned of from a recent book and from a story in the Washington Post by the authors of the same book (as well as other documents they have described to me). The book reviews Dallas police, FBI, and CIA files released since 1992, and places them in the context of previously known information. I would like to know what the Review Board is doing to obtain the following:

1. The Dallas field office and headquarters FBI reports on the arrests of Donnell D. Whitter and Lawrence R. Miller in Dallas on November 18, 1963 with a carload of stolen US army weapons. I believe that Lee Oswald was the FBI informant who made these arrests possible. I would also like to know what your board has done to obtain the reports of the US Marshal and the US Army on the same arrests, and the burglary these men were suspected of.

2. The records of the FBI interrogations of John Franklin Elrod, John Forrester Gedney and Harold Doyle (the latter men were previously known as two of the "three tramps") in the Dallas jail November 22-24, 1963. All of these men have stated that they were interrogated during that time by the FBI.

3. The official explanation of why the arrest records for Mr. Elrod, Mr. Gedney and Mr. Doyle, as well as for Daniel Wayne Douglas and Gus Abrams were placed "under federal seal" in the Dallas Police Records Division for 26 years as described by Dallas City Archives supervisor Laura McGhee to the FBI in 1992.

4. The full records of the interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald, including his interrogation in the presence of John Franklin Elrod as described by Elrod in an FBI report dated August 11, 1964.

5. The reports of army intelligence agent Ed J. Coyle on his investigation of Captain George Nonte, John Thomas Masen, Donnell D. Whitter, Lawrence R. Miller, and/or Jack Ruby. I am also requesting that you obtain agent Coyle's reports as army liaison for presidential protection on November 22, 1963 (as described by Coyle's commanding officer Col. Robert Jones in sworn testimony to the House Select Committee on Assassinations). If the army does not immediately produce these documents, they should be required to produce agent Coyle to explain what happened to his reports.

6. Secret Service reports and tapes of that agency's investigation of Father Walter Machann and Silvia Odio in 1963-64.

7. Reports of the FBI investigation of Cuban exiles in Dallas, to include known but still classified documents on Fermin de Goicochea Sanchez, Father Walter Machann and the Dallas Diocese Catholic Cuban Relocation Committee. These would include informant files for Father Machann and/or reports of interviews of Father Machann by Dallas FBI agent W. Heitman.

8. The full particulars and original of the teletype received by Mr. William Walter in the New Orleans FBI office on the morning of November 17, 1963, warning of a possible assassination attempt on President Kennedy in Dallas. I now believe that my former husband met with the Dallas FBI on November 16, 1963, and provided informant information on which this teletype was based.

9. A full report of Lee Harvey Oswald's visit to the Dallas FBI office on November 16, 1963.

10. A full account of FBI agent James P. Hosty's claim (in his recent book, Assignment Oswald) that Lee Harvey Oswald knew of a planned "paramilitary invasion of Cuba" by "a group of right wing Cuban exiles in outlying areas of New Orleans." We now know that such an invasion was indeed planned by a Cuban group operating on CIA payroll in Miami, New Orleans, and Dallas - the same group infiltrated by Lee Oswald. We know this information only from documents released since 1992, as described in the book I have mentioned. On what basis did agent Hosty believe Lee "had learned" of these plans, unless Lee himself told him this? I am therefore specifically requesting the release of the informant report that Lee Oswald provided to agent Hosty and/or other FBI personnel on this intelligence information.

The time for the Review Board to obtain and release the most important documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy is running out. At the time of the assassination of this great president whom I loved, I was misled by the "evidence" presented to me by government authorities and I assisted in the conviction of Lee Harvey Oswald as the assassin. From the new information now available, I am now convinced that he was an FBI informant and believe that he

did not kill President Kennedy. It is time for Americans to know their full history. On this day when I and all Americans are grieving for the victims of Oklahoma City, I am also thinking of my children and grandchildren, and of all American children, when I insist that your board give the highest priority to the release of the documents I have listed. This is the duty you were charged with by law. Anything else is unacceptable - not just to me, but to all patriotic Americans.

When I came to this country I came as a friend. I was then and am now. When the assassination happened I believed it was my obligation - anybody's obligation - to abide by the law of this land. I testified to the Warren Commission and I obliged any request the government made of me. I agreed with the findings of the Warren Commission not because I really understood everything about it, but because I had enough trust that they investigated honestly and that the conclusions they came to were based on the highest form of investigation. So, with my blind faith, I accepted their conclusions. Of course, at that time lots of people in this country who knew more about what was going on questioned the findings of the commission. And I defended the commission against those people, and I wanted all those so-called conspiracy people to just go away. Then there was a second investigation because the people demanded it. This was the investigation of the U.S. House Select Committee. And I testified for them. And their conclusion was possible conspiracy, meaning that the assassination involved more than one person, and they stopped it at that. Even then, I wasn't very pleased. I wasn't very pleased because when I was testifying for them and I thought they were honest - after so many years, and because the people demanded it I asked them questions that would be answered just for me, and I was told that I was there only to answer questions, not to ask them. So I knew that that investigation was doomed.

And how can I respect the conclusions of the House Select Committee, when they locked up their records?

I gave the two investigations everything I had. Then later I found out that the FBI knew more about me than I knew about myself. Literally, even my underwear was investigated. And I have no problem - they didn't have to trust me, why should they? I don't hold anything against that. But my private matters were investigated - even when they had all the proof that I was nobody's "spy" and I feel that this was for blackmail - my house was bugged, and I saw pictures of me which I knew nobody but the FBI could have done. I've seen with my own eyes that any kind of gossip from people even remotely related to me by name in Russia - any kind of nonsense - is in the record. You cannot be more thorough than that. And even so, I don't object. But now I think, it's my turn to ask the questions and for the FBI to clean their own laundry. I don't want to know everything about the FBI, but since they claim that I am wife of the assassin, and I have to defend myself , only in that regard am I sticking my nose in their business. And I'm not begging for answers. I think I've earned them, and I think they should give them to me.


Beyond Dallas: The Assassination’s Key Players After Nov. 22, 1963

When the Secret Service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy heard the shots ring out in Dealey Plaza, he rushed from the left running board of the trailing car and dove onto the trunk of the presidential limousine and shoved scrambling Jackie Kennedy back inside the accelerating car. Haunted by guilt for not saving the president, Hill went into seclusion, plummeted into a deep depression and even contemplated suicide in the years after the assassination. He remained silent until an emotional 1975 interview on the CBS news program � Minutes” in which he broke down on camera. The now 81-year-old Hill, following up on his 2012 book “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” recently released his memoir of the events in Dallas, 𠇏ive Days in November.”


Lee Harvey Oswald ordered to kill JFK by Soviets, ex-CIA chief claims

New photos show Lee Harvey Oswald’s widow as a 72-year-old grandmother living quietly in a suburban Texas town.

Marina Oswald, the Russian beauty whom the JFK assassin wedded while living in the Soviet Union, has built a new life in Rockwall, with her second husband, Kenneth Porter, 75.

She has a son, Mark, 47, with Porter, and two children, June, 51, and Rachel, 50, from her marriage to Oswald. They have lived in Rockwall since the mid-1970s and have a good reputation in the small Dallas suburb.

“She and Ken are good people, the best neighbors you could ever have,” Fred McCurley, who lives nearby, told the National Enquirer.

Their standing among townspeople was solidified two years ago when she and neighbors joined forces to fight what was described as a sex club that had rented a local house.

“Marina was as horrified as the rest of us when the swingers moved in,” neighbor Sherry Ann Clark told the Enquirer.

The Porters posted a “Keep Out” sign on their driveway to keep out strangers and the legions of Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists who try to reach her.

The photo, one of the few of her since the 1960s, was taken while she was shopping in her adopted hometown.
Marina Porter, as she is known, became an American citizen in 1989.

She remains convinced that Lee Oswald was innocent of the murder in Dallas that stunned the world 50 years ago this month.

“She always told me Lee Harvey Oswald loved President Kennedy,” documentary filmmaker Keya Morgan said.

“Marina says she remembers the day the Kennedy’s premature baby Patrick died [in August 1963] and she found Lee sobbing.”

A grim reminder of Marina’s past was an auction of nearly 300 items linked to President Kennedy that was held in Boston last week.

Among the items was a gold wedding band that ­Oswald left in a cup on her dresser the morning he ­assassinated Kennedy.

Marina wrote, in a five-page letter dated last May 13, that the ring only brings back painful memories.

“At this time in my life I don’t wish to have Lee’s ring in my possession because symbolically I want to let go of my past that is connecting with Nov. 22, 1963,” she wrote.

Oswald left the ring and all of his cash, $170, on the dresser the day he shot Kennedy. The ring had been forgotten for decades and was recently found in the files of a Fort Worth lawyer who worked for her at one time.

The ring was sold to anonymous bidder from Texas for $108,000, officials said.


Oswald’s Mother Was a Thoroughly Disagreeable Piece of Work

She was manipulative, abrasive, and mercenary to a fault. To know his mother was to feel some small sympathy for Lee Harvey Oswald.

Steve North

It was a surreal moment. The widow of Lee Harvey Oswald was telling me her reaction to reading an account of her husband’s funeral, written by her late, long-estranged mother-in-law. “I dropped a tear or two,” Marina Oswald said softly in her Russian accent. The two most influential women in Oswald’s life, his wife and his mother Marguerite, had not spoken with each other for years before Marguerite’s death in 1981. But I was in touch with them both, and Marguerite once asked me to help her get a story about Lee’s burial published. I later shared it with Marina.

Hearing Marina’s emotional response to the article struck a nerve, reminding me that the traumatic public events of November 1963 were also profoundly personal tragedies for the Kennedy, Oswald, and Ruby families. Until 1976, I was just one more American with a crystal clear memory of where I was the moment I heard the news. It was my fifth-grade hall monitor who uttered the stunning words, “Kennedy’s been shot.”

But a dozen years later, I was a broadcast journalist at ABC, working with Geraldo Rivera. He had just made headlines and gotten a footnote in the history books by showing the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination on television for the first time, and he asked me to produce a follow-up program that would feature anyone from the Oswald or Ruby families willing to talk.

Oswald’s widow and brother were not interested in appearing on TV, but his mother Marguerite was—for a price. Since Rivera’s production company owned his “Good Night America” newsmagazine show, I was told I needn’t abide by ABC News standards, and could offer Marguerite up to one thousand dollars. It was checkbook journalism at its finest.

Near the end of a prolonged phone negotiating session, I finally reached a deal with the savvy former nurse for the thousand-dollar fee. As we discussed details of the interview, which was to be done in her home, I said, “I’ve heard you have a small study, sort of a shrine to Lee. We’d like to have the conversation there.” Without missing a beat, Marguerite replied, “That will be another two hundred dollars.”

Although I was 23 years old and dreaded losing my job for going over budget, I wearily said, “Done.”

Not long afterwards, on a brutally hot day in August 1976, Geraldo and I met a local film crew in Marguerite’s small, stifling house in Fort Worth, around the corner from Lee’s old high school, where she surrounded herself with photos of the accused assassin as a sweet baby and a smiling Marine.

In the midst of proclaiming Lee’s innocence, Marguerite made one of her most intriguing claims. The night before Jack Ruby shot Oswald, she said, “an FBI agent named Bard Odum came to the motel where Marina and I were staying. He had a picture cupped in his hand, and asked me if I knew this man. I said no, I’ve never seen him in my life. Later, after Ruby killed Lee—and remember, I didn’t know then who killed Lee—I walked through a room where we were being held in protective custody by the Secret Service, and I casually turned over a newspaper. And on the bottom of the front page was a picture of a man. I said, that’s the man in the picture the FBI agent showed me. And they said, Mrs. Oswald, that’s the man who killed your son.”

An hour later, with the interview concluded, I sat with Marguerite at her kitchen table as Geraldo finished up business with the crew. “I don’t like him,” she whispered to me. “He believes Lee is guilty. I think you’re more open-minded.” I thanked her for the dubious compliment, then mentioned I collected autographs and would like her to sign something for me. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I charge two hundred dollars for my signature. It’s the only way I stay alive. I also sell my expired licenses and library cards for two hundred dollars each.”

I told her I understood, then handed Marguerite the two legal release forms that allowed her to appear on the program for the agreed-upon $1,200. She signed them both, and I signed as witness. Moments later, clutching the documents in my hand, I walked out of the house, turned to Geraldo and said, “I just saved myself 400 bucks.”

Although that was Marguerite Oswald’s first network television interview in many years, we were not the first journalists to speak with her. That distinction belongs to my CBS colleague Bob Schieffer, who was a 26-year-old newspaper reporter in Dallas on November 22, 1963. He picked up the phone on that chaotic day at the Star-Telegram, and heard a woman ask if anyone could drive her from Fort Worth to Dallas. “We’re not running a taxi service, lady,” Schieffer retorted, “and if you haven’t heard, the president’s been shot.” “I know,” the woman replied. “I heard on the radio that they’ve arrested my son.”

Schieffer jumped in a car and got the scoop of his career, interviewing Marguerite during the ride back to Dallas. She was already complaining that people would send money to her daughter-in-law Marina, but that she would be forgotten.

Fifty years later, Schieffer’s assessment of Marguerite has not changed: “She was a self-centered, seriously deranged person, whose only interest seemed to be money,” he told me this month. “Even years after I came to CBS, she would call and ask if we would pay for an interview. She never once shed a tear on that ride to Dallas.”

Marguerite Claverie Oswald was, indeed, a difficult and bizarre woman. She was married three times, and was once accused of abusing her second husband. Lee’s father died two months before he was born in 1939, and Marguerite frequently moved with the boy between Texas, Louisiana, and New York. Her disagreeable nature made it nearly impossible for her to hold down a job. One family that had hired her as a baby nurse told the Star-Telegram that “everyone hated her,” and she was fired when they began to suspect she was drugging their infant so he wouldn’t cry at night.

Perhaps because I would listen to her unrelenting rants, Marguerite seemed to enjoy speaking with me, and we stayed in touch until her death. She sent me items such as a letter she had received from the CIA about Lee’s time in Russia (adding a cryptic comment of her own), a Social Security receipt showing her meager income and pleading, “need an interview to supplement help if you can,” and a note expressing her wish that “someday the networks will wake up.”

One day, a package arrived containing that long story she’d written about Lee’s funeral. Marguerite hoped it would be the prelude to a book she wanted to write, and asked if I could get it published somewhere. Although the article was printed in pamphlet form in 1965, it never went anywhere and these days is only available in a Dallas library.

Titled “Aftermath of an Execution: The Burial and Final Rites of Lee Harvey Oswald”, Marguerite begins with her visit to Lee in jail. “He had black eyes and scratches on his face. His eye was swollen. I said, ‘Are they mistreating you?’ He answered, ‘No, mother, I got this in the scuffle.’ Of course, I know that this boy wouldn’t tell his mother the truth if he was being mistreated by the Dallas police. He would not want to worry his mother.”

Marguerite refers to Oswald’s murder the next morning by Jack Ruby as “the tragic event,” then describes in detail preparations for her son’s funeral and burial. She seems astonished by the fact that no ministers wanted to officiate, writing, “So much for Christianity as we know it today.” A non-practicing clergyman finally volunteered. In his brief remarks, Reverend Louis Saunders said, “We are not here to judge Lee Harvey Oswald, but to bury him. May God have mercy on his soul. His mother has informed me that Lee was a good son to her, a good husband to his wife, and a good father to his children.”

In her description of the sparse ceremony, Marguerite reveals her exceedingly odd and egocentric worldview. She laments, “God, in His infinite wisdom, must have wept at the sight of this wife, mother, brother and the two small children of the deceased, the only attendants at this funeral.” Upon leaving, she noticed a sight “I shall never forget. The cemetery flag was at half-staff. Of course, I knew it was flying low because our President had died. But to me, you see, it meant also that my son was being buried under a flag that was at half-staff too. Sometimes there is joy even in sorrow.”

Another moment of insight into her personality comes half a year later, when she watches a TV report showing a dead tree next to Oswald’s grave. “Not one time in the past six months had my composure broken, but this time, alone in my house, I broke down and wept.” She intensified her effort to keep Lee’s grave “neat-looking, for many people passed by to take pictures for history. I, as a mother,” Marguerite concludes, “want these people to go back home knowing a mother’s love for a son is everlasting.”

In 1981, Marguerite was buried next to Lee they have spent more time together in death than they did in life.

In various radio interviews I conducted with her in her final years, Marguerite’s voice became increasingly shrill and her allegations grandiose. Calling herself “a mother in history,” she insisted, “Lee was offered the job in the Book Depository. He didn’t get it on his own. He was placed there. He was the perfect patsy. They set him up.” She consistently refused to reveal who “they” were, but echoed many critics of the official investigations when she said, “The case against Lee Harvey Oswald is hearsay, distortion, and omission, and the FBI used wrong investigative techniques. Lee died an innocent man. He was neither tried nor convicted for his alleged crime. And history is being defamed.”

Only once was the verbose Marguerite nearly at a loss for words: when the House Assassinations Committee concluded in 1979 that President Kennedy’s murder was probably the result of a conspiracy, one possibly involving organized crime, and that Marguerite herself may have had “personal relationships” with members of the Mafia in her younger days. I called and read her the AP story as it crossed the wire she was astounded. “What they are implying,” she sputtered, “is beneath contempt!”

During the time I knew Marguerite, there was only one moment in which I truly felt any compassion for her. She confided that a major heartache was the lack of any relationship with Lee’s two daughters. Marina had cut off contact after 1963, and Marguerite told me she sometimes would secretly go to her older granddaughter June’s elementary school and peer through the schoolyard fence, just to get a glimpse of her. In the midst of all her bombast, I suddenly saw her as the sad, lonely old woman she was.

Over the years, I had conversations with Marina and Lee’s brother, Robert, and I got to know Jack Ruby’s siblings as well. These essentially innocent bystanders all expressed regret and remorse about Oswald and Ruby, two pathetic men who failed miserably in nearly every aspect of their existences, yet succeeded in changing the course of American, if not world, history.

But my sympathy for them all is limited. It extends, instead, to the real victims of this heinous crime of the last century. John F. Kennedy would have celebrated his 70th birthday in 1987, and I wrote to his daughter that year, asking if she would consider, for the first time, speaking about his life. To my surprise, Caroline called me, saying she had seriously considered doing an interview. “But I can’t,” she apologized. “I just can’t bring myself to do it yet. Maybe my brother might why don’t you ask him?”

I never did. Hearing the pain in Caroline’s voice brought home to me in a visceral way that two little children lost their father on November 22, 1963, while the rest of us lost a president with unfulfilled potential, one who touched hearts and minds in ways that few leaders ever do.

And that’s why, to use Marina Oswald’s phrase, I’ll be “dropping a tear or two” on Friday.


Lee Harvey Oswald Was My Friend

It was 7 a.m. on Sunday when the single phone at the bottom of the stairs echoed through my parents’ red-brick house, right off Monticello Park in Fort Worth. “Mr. Gregory,” a woman said as my father picked up, “I need your help.” Who are you? he asked in his Texas-Russian accent, still half-asleep.

The caller said only that she had been a student in his Russian language course at our local library, and that he knew her son. In that instant, my father, Pete Gregory, linked the voice to a nurse who sat in the back of his class and had once identified herself as “Oswald.” Until this phone call, he hadn’t realized that she was the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union only to return two and a half years later with a Russian wife and a 4-month-old daughter. My father helped Lee and his young family get settled in Fort Worth a year earlier. The Oswalds had been my friends.

My father now understood that the woman on the other end of the line, Marguerite Oswald, must have taken his class to communicate with her daughter-in-law, Marina, who spoke little English. It was also clear why she needed his help. Two days earlier, Marguerite’s son shot the president of the United States. While Lee Harvey Oswald was sitting in a Dallas jail cell, his wife and mother and two young daughters were hiding out at the Executive Inn, a commuter hotel near the airport, where they were taken and then abandoned by a team of Life magazine staff members. Marina Oswald had become the most wanted witness in America. She needed a translator fast.

Hours after the Kennedy assassination, my parents and I experienced the shared horror of realizing that the Lee Oswald we knew, the one who had been in our house and sat at our dinner table, was the same man who had just been accused of killing the president. The Secret Service first knocked on my parents’ door at 3 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 23, 1963. The following day, just 45 minutes after my father hung up with Marguerite, an agent named Mike Howard picked him up and drove him to a Howard Johnson’s on the Fort Worth-Dallas Turnpike, where they met Robert Oswald, Lee’s brother. As the family’s translator of choice, my father was now part of the plan to get the Oswald women out of the dingy hotel room and into a safe house that Robert had arranged at his in-law’s farm, north of the city, so Marina could be questioned.

The scene at the Executive Inn was worse than my father had expected. Marina, already thin, appeared extremely gaunt she was having difficulty breast-feeding Rachel, her younger daughter, who was not yet 5 weeks old. Marguerite, on the other hand, was having a fit she refused to be sent out to the sticks, as she put it. My father talked her down, but as the men began packing the car, Agent Howard whispered that Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot. Robert Oswald left for the hospital, but Howard and my father agreed not to mention the news to Marina or Marguerite yet.

On the car ride to the safe house, Marina pleaded with the agents to stop at the house of her friend, Ruth Paine, in Irving, Tex., to pick up extra children’s supplies. But reporters were already camped out in front of Paine’s yard, so the group was diverted to the home of the city’s police chief, C. J. Wirasnik. And it was there that my father told Marina, in Russian, that her husband just died. Marina, who never knew her father, said that she couldn’t bear that her two children would also grow up without one. Weeping uncontrollably, Marguerite shouted that, as an American citizen, she had as much right to see her son’s body as Jackie Kennedy had to see her husband’s. So eventually the group headed to Parkland Hospital, where Oswald had been taken and where a belligerent crowd was already growing outside. The doctors advised Marina against viewing Oswald’s body, which was yellow and pale, his face bruised, but Marina insisted she wanted to see the wound that killed him. A doctor pulled up the sheet to reveal the area in his torso where Jack Ruby shot him.

With Oswald dead, Marina’s testimony became even more important, and the Secret Service immediately diverted the group to the nearby Inn of the Six Flags, ushering everyone into adjoining rooms 423 and 424. A single armed detective patrolled the grounds as Marina chain-smoked and drank coffee and was asked questions about Lee’s rifle, a photo of him holding the assassination weapon and his various associates. My father, who was then 59, translated furiously. All the while, Marguerite insisted that her son should be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and Robert patiently set out to find a funeral home that would bury the man accused of being the president’s assassin.

The next day, Monday morning, the Secret Service tried to keep the television set off, but Marina — once again drinking coffee and chain-smoking, with tears streaming down her face — insisted on watching the state funeral of John F. Kennedy. She had long admired the first lady and asked her husband to translate any magazine articles she could find about the president. She continued watching the broadcast until the agents had to rush her out so she could attend her own husband’s funeral at the Rose Hill Cemetery. That afternoon, the Lutheran minister failed to show up, and a number of reporters pitched in as pallbearers. After Marina returned to Six Flags, humiliated by the rushed service, my father consoled her by translating a telegram from a group of college students. “We send you our heartfelt sympathy,” the message read. “We understand your sorrow and share it. We are ashamed that such a thing could happen in our country. We beg you not to think ill of us.”

My father recounted that weekend’s events to me a few days later over Thanksgiving dinner, when I returned home from the University of Oklahoma, where I had just begun graduate school. Through my father, I had become a close — or, as Robert Oswald would later say, almost the only — friend of Lee and Marina Oswald’s from virtually the moment they arrived in Fort Worth, in June 1962, until the end of that November. While that five-month period might seem fleeting, it was a significant period in Oswald’s life. He was never in the same place for long. By age 17, he had already moved some 20 times. Then he dropped out of high school and joined the Marines, before being released and traveling to Moscow. He avoided deportation by attempting suicide and was sent to Minsk, where he met Marina. In the year and a half after he returned to the United States, he moved several more times. My friendship with him was perhaps the longest he’d ever had.

My family tried to put those tragic events behind us, but over the ensuing decades, as I became an academic and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, I felt compelled to combine my memories and the historical record to present my own sense of Oswald. Most Americans believe that Oswald shot Kennedy. Yet according to one recent A.P. poll, only a quarter of Americans believe that one man acted alone to kill Kennedy. “Would Oswald,” as Norman Mailer wrote, “pushed to such an extreme, have the soul of a killer?” As I pored back over those months, I realized that I was watching that soul take shape.

From nearly the moment I met Lee Harvey Oswald, it seemed that he felt the world had sized him up wrong. He wasn’t much of a student, and the Marines overlooked his talent. But now his luck was changing. As virtually the only American living in Minsk, he became something of a celebrity in that provincial capital. Oswald assumed his experience as an American living in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War would be tremendously valuable, and he was already drafting a memoir. He kept a journal, which he labeled “Historic Diary.” When he, Marina and little June touched down at Love Field, on June 14, 1962, he greeted his brother Robert by asking where the reporters were.

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A week and a half after his return, he went to the 15th floor of the Continental Life Building in downtown Fort Worth. Earlier that morning, my father, a successful petroleum engineer, received a call from a young man who wanted certification of fluency in Russian. Rather than tell him that there wasn’t much of a market for a Russian translator in 1960s Texas, my father, who fled Siberia during the civil war, welcomed the chance to meet this fellow Russian speaker in person. He told him to come in for a meeting.

Around 11 a.m., with the temperature climbing into the 90s, a slight, 22-year-old Oswald arrived, drenched with sweat and wearing a wool suit. My father asked Oswald to translate passages from a Russian book he chose at random, and he was surprised at how well the young man performed. He asked his secretary to type out a “to whom it may concern” letter stating that one Lee Harvey Oswald was qualified to work as a translator, but he also told him that he knew of no jobs in the area that required knowledge of Russian. To soften the blow, he invited Oswald to lunch at the Hotel Texas, a block from his office, with its bustling dining room filled with deal-making oilmen, bankers and lawyers gnawing on Melba toast, a specialty. As they ordered their lunch, my father tried to engage Oswald about his wife and life in contemporary Russia, but the young man volunteered little about how a former Marine and Fort Worth resident could end up in Minsk other than to say enigmatically that he had “gone to the Soviet Union on my own.” Upon parting, Oswald offered the address and telephone number of his brother Robert, with whom he and his wife were staying, just in case anything came up.

Nothing did, of course, but there were so few émigrés in the area that the Dallas Russians, as my family called a group of their friends, felt protective of their own. A few days later, my father decided to check up on Oswald and his wife, and because I was around their age and home for the summer, he took me along. When we pulled up to the house on Davenport Street, we were greeted warmly by Robert Oswald, a tall and well-spoken man, who had served in the Marines and was working his way up to management at Acme Brick Company. Lee, by contrast, was restrained. He was short and wiry, his hairline noticeably receding, and he spoke with a Southern accent, not Texan, perhaps a relic of time spent in New Orleans during his youth.

Lee and Robert invited us in to meet Marina, who was slender, almost fragile, with a natural beauty. (Lee was one of several suitors back in Minsk.) She smiled rarely, if at all — a typical victim of Soviet dentistry, she was ashamed of her teeth. Lee explained to his wife in Russian that he had invited over a pair of fellow Russian speakers as a favor. And so my father, Pete, led the discussion by asking her questions about their voyage to the U.S., life in Minsk and what it was like to be a young person in the Soviet Union. Marina answered most of the questions, speaking quietly and occasionally showing photographs.

About a week later, my father and I drove 10 minutes from our house to Lee and Marina Oswald’s new home, a cramped one-bedroom duplex near the Montgomery Ward building. Their yard had a hardscrabble lawn burned yellow by the Texas summer sun, and the front door stood on a little porch, up a single concrete step. My father was taken by Marina. She was an engaging young woman who had already overcome a great deal — she was reared in a war-ravaged St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) littered with unmarked graves — and he wanted to help her. He asked Marina if she would offer me Russian lessons. Before we even set a fee, Marina agreed to see me twice a week. She seemed happy for the company.

The next Tuesday, at around 6 p.m., Marina invited me in for my first lesson. The Oswald living room was extraordinarily bare there was a shabby sofa and chair and a worn coffee table where a copy of Time magazine featuring John F. Kennedy as its Man of the Year was prominently displayed. (The issue, which would curiously remain in the same place during all my visits, was dated Jan. 5, five months before the Oswalds’ arrival in the U.S.) We sat there uncomfortably for some 20 to 30 minutes until Lee burst in the door, dressed in his customary simple slacks, a plaid shirt with open collar and sleeves rolled up to the elbows, carrying a stack of weighty books from the Fort Worth public library. The conversation segued to the Time cover Marina ventured that the president appeared to be a nice man and that the first lady, at least from the pictures she had seen, appeared quite glamorous. She also said that she seemed to be a good mother. Lee, in his curt way, agreed.

As our first session came to an end, we decided that future lessons would take the form of my driving the Oswalds around town and having Marina correct my practical Russian as I pointed out landmarks. This, we reasoned, would be better for my language skills and help Marina learn the city. But we all knew it would also greatly benefit their ability to run errands. At the time, I thought that Lee, who did not have a driver’s license, seemed to recognize that I was doing his young family a favor. As I was leaving their house, he raced to the bedroom and returned with a faded pocket English-Russian dictionary that he used during his time in Minsk. “Take this,” Lee told me. Only later did I realize that Oswald was showing off in front of Marina, pointing out that he didn’t need the dictionary but that I did.

On a typical lesson evening, I would show up around 6:30, when Lee got home from his welder’s job. We would climb into my yellow Buick and drive by department stores or Montgomery Ward, and I’d bring them back home by 10. These were lean times for the Oswalds, but they weren’t without hope. During a trip to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Oswald exuded an air of optimism. He was back in America with a beautiful wife and an adorable daughter his life ahead promised more study and a possible university degree a publisher would surely understand the value of his memoir, and he could use it as a platform to further the socialist causes in which he believed. Marina would understand what kind of man he really was.

But over the course of those months, it became harder for him to convince her of his exceptionalism. Early that summer, Lee brought home a catalog and class schedule from Texas Christian University, and we eventually decided to drive to the T.C.U. campus so Lee could talk to a school official. He dressed for the occasion, as I remember it, in dark slacks and a white shirt, but when we arrived, he motioned for Marina and me to wait at a distance while he had a whispered consultation with the woman at a desk. They spoke for a while, but when Lee rejoined us, he was sullen and quiet. (At the time, I didn’t realize he hadn’t graduated from high school.) On other nights, the Oswalds would walk down the aisles of the inexpensive Leonard Brothers department store and whisper intently beside the produce section before a final selection was made. Lee, who controlled the budget, would then haggle over prices, particularly with meat. (He often did so, almost humorously, with a smile on his face.) We usually left with only one bag of groceries, which kept the Oswalds going for a week.

On these shopping trips, I soon realized, Marina couldn’t help noticing that other mothers were buying more, dressing better and even driving their own cars. At the same time, she seemed to be tiring of her husband’s radical ideas. During one of Lee’s lectures about Castro’s Cuba, Marina, who had lived her whole life under Communism, interrupted to say that the Soviet Union was foolishly spending its precious resources to prop up Cuba. They had so little in Minsk anyway, she said, why waste money on a faraway nation that offered her fellow citizens little besides expensive sugar? Though he constantly toted volumes about politics and eagerly name-checked “The Communist Manifesto” and “Das Kapital,” it soon became clear to me that Oswald had no real understanding of Communism beyond Marx’s appeal for workers to unite.

At the bottom of the Oswalds’ conflict, I thought, was Lee’s refusal to let Marina learn English. He argued that it would jeopardize his fluency in Russian, but more important, it was a way he leveraged control over her. During one visit to a Rexall drugstore that August, Lee became visibly angry when a pharmacist offered to hire Marina, who had worked at a hospital pharmacy in Minsk, once her language skills improved. The job, after all, could have made her the family breadwinner. That rage would resurface later that month as we exited the duplex one evening. Marina took a step backward and fell, thumping her head on the hard, dry ground and dropping June. The thud was so loud that I feared she might be seriously injured Lee, however, screamed at her for her clumsiness as she lay curled on the ground clutching for her baby. Even after he realized June was fine, he didn’t speak to Marina for the rest of the night.

After a couple of months of lessons, my parents’ Russian émigré circle became curious about my new friends. So on Aug. 25, 1962, we invited the Oswalds to a small dinner party at our house. George Bouhe, a dapper bachelor who took it upon himself to be a one-man social-service department for new Russian-speaking immigrants, was particularly eager to meet Marina. After all, they each grew up in what is now St. Petersburg. But as a true patriot of his adopted country, he was wary of her husband for leaving the U.S. for the Soviet Union.

Soon after I arrived with the Oswalds, Marina and Bouhe repaired to the living room. He brought along maps of St. Petersburg at various stages of its history, and they spread them out on the floor and huddled together, pointing at various landmarks. Bouhe was impressed that Marina spoke educated Russian and that her grandmother had attended an exclusive girls’ school. Marina also disclosed that her grandmother was religious, which was particularly pleasing to Bouhe because he organized Russian Orthodox services in Dallas. After a short while, he concluded that he would do whatever he could for this young woman, even if that meant helping her husband, who had sulked off to the den, waiting to be called to the table.

When dinner was served, Bouhe kept things light by asking Lee and Marina about life in Minsk. Yet I recall that his companion for the evening, a Russian woman named Anna Meller, couldn’t resist asking the question we all secretly wanted answered — why had Lee defected to the Soviet Union? Lee, who had been on his best behavior and even wore a sports jacket to dinner, suddenly became agitated and defensive. His voice rose, but what came out were canned slogans — he left because capitalism was a terrible system, it exploited the workers, the poor got nothing and so forth. Meller would not let him off the hook, though. The Soviet Union was a miserable place to live, she continued, so why had he left a country that was so wonderful and hospitable? Lee responded defensively that, yes, he did not think that the party faithful believed in Communism anymore but that this did not make America a great place.

Later in the evening, Bouhe and Meller began to insist that Marina needed to learn English if she was to survive in America. In fact, Bouhe noted, he had arranged English lessons for many Russian émigrés he could do the same for her. Now Lee’s voice rose again. If he allowed Marina to learn English, he said, his Russian would suffer, and it was very important that he retain his fluency. Anna Meller could scarcely control her anger over his selfish behavior. Dinner ended abruptly.

As the summer drew to a close, before I returned to Norman for my senior year at O.U., I went to the Oswalds’ for my final language lesson. Because we had never agreed on a fee for my lessons, my father and I decided to pay Marina $35. It was a considerable sum (at one time, Lee gave her $2 a week from his earnings), but she refused it immediately — friends, she said, did not accept money from one another. After I insisted, she said she had never had such a sum of money in her life and planned to go right to Montgomery Ward. As a sign of her gratitude, she gave me a memento from her days in the Communist youth league — a pin of Lenin’s image, chin jutted out in a defiant but thoughtful pose. I accepted her gift gratefully and noticed that Bouhe and Meller seemed to have provided a playpen, used clothes and other amenities in the Oswald home. (In the past, I saw baby June sleep on a blanket atop a suitcase.) I asked Marina whether she had followed Bouhe’s urgings and begun to learn English. She shrugged. She would get around to it one of these days, she said.

Two months later, I peered into the mailbox of my student walk-up in Norman and extracted a penny postcard, which had been handwritten and posted two days earlier from 602 Elsbeth Street, Dallas. “Dear Paul!” it read, “We have moved to Dallas where we have found a nice apartment and I have found work in a very nice place, we would like you too [sic] come and see us as soon as you get a chance,” before eventually signing off in Russian. I was certainly relieved to hear that the Oswalds were doing well, and I assumed, from the spelling and punctuation mistakes, that Marina had written the letter and was getting the hang of English. I wrote her a response telling her as much, politely suggesting a few points about punctuation. Marina had always seemed eager to impress on me the finer points of grammar during our Russian conversations. I assumed she would appreciate the thought.

But a week and a half later, after I returned to my parents’ home for Thanksgiving, I answered our single phone at the bottom of the staircase. Marina, who was calling from Robert Oswald’s house in Fort Worth, said immediately: “I did not write that letter. Lee did.” Her tone told me all I needed to know Lee had been deeply insulted and mortified by my response. Marina then told me she was unhappy. She hinted at physical abuse and explained that she had left him only to reconcile after he pleaded for her to attend Thanksgiving at his brother’s house. For the time being, he was treating her better, but she did not know for how long. Would I mind coming over? Perhaps a visit might remind them of better times.

I arrived at Robert’s house as the guests were leaving and then drove Lee, Marina and June back to our house. We said hello to my parents and went into the kitchen to prepare some turkey sandwiches. I tried to keep the conversation casual, but Marina began complaining about Lee even as he sat beside her, largely silent. He treated her Russian friends poorly, she said, and tried to keep her isolated in the house, doing the grocery shopping himself. I listened uncomfortably, sensing his hostility at me for suggesting that he, a self-styled intellectual keeping a “Historic Diary,” could not write or punctuate any better than someone just learning English. After an hour or so, I drove them downtown to the bus station for their ride back to Dallas. Marina waved goodbye from the steps. It was Nov. 22, 1962. I never saw them again.

On the Saturday morning after Kennedy was killed, I was sitting in my small apartment in Norman when a Secret Service agent and the local chief of police arrived and took me some 20 miles down I-35 to Oklahoma City for questioning. As we drove, I began telling them about how I met Oswald, the evenings driving around Fort Worth, the Dallas Russians and how a college kid got caught up with an accused assassin. After they escorted me into a nondescript conference room in a downtown building, the agents homed in on the question of the day, which, of course, has lingered over the past 50 years: Did I think Oswald worked alone or was part of a larger conspiracy? I told them simply that, if I were organizing a conspiracy, he would have been the last person I would recruit. He was too difficult and unreliable.

Over the years, despite public-opinion polls, many others have agreed. The opening of formerly secret archives in Russia indicate that the K.G.B. didn’t want to recruit Oswald. Cuban intelligence officers, a K.G.B. agent or two, Mafia bosses and even C.I.A. officers (including, supposedly, members of Nixon’s “plumbers” team) have somehow been tied to Oswald’s actions that day, but it’s difficult to understand how these conspiracy theories would have worked. Oswald, after all, fled the Texas School Book Depository by Dallas’s notably unreliable public-transportation system.

It’s discomfiting to think that history could have been altered by such a small player, but over the years, I’ve realized that was part of Oswald’s goal. I entered his life at just the moment that he was trying to prove, particularly to his skeptical wife, that he was truly exceptional. But during those months, his assertion was rapidly losing credibility. Marina would later tell the Warren Commission, through a translator, about “his imagination, his fantasy, which was quite unfounded, as to the fact that he was an outstanding man.” Perhaps he chose what seemed like the only remaining shortcut to going down in history. On April 10, 1963, Oswald used a rifle with a telescopic sight to fire a bullet into the Dallas home of Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, the conservative war hero, narrowly missing his head. Oswald told his wife about the assassination attempt, but she never told authorities before Kennedy’s death.

Seven months later, a far greater target would be scheduled to pass by the very building where he worked. As Priscilla Johnson McMillan writes in her book, “Marina and Lee,” the president’s route under Oswald’s workplace might have convinced him that fate had provided a unique opportunity. “The whole series of frustrations had now brought him to this final stage,” Robert Oswald writes in his memoir. “The discouragements and disappointments beginning in his childhood, continuing through the school years and the years in the Marines, the death of his dream of a new life in Russia, the boring jobs back in the United States, which made it impossible to support Marina adequately and gain some recognition as a man . . . the whole pattern of failure throughout most of his 23 years led to the outbursts of violence in April and the final tragedy in November 1963.”

Robert Oswald told me in September that he had not talked to Marina in quite a while. When I reached him by phone at his home, he had the wary tone of a man who has spent half a century answering for someone else. He recalled my father fondly (“Pete Gregory was a good guy,” he said) but politely refused to recount his experience yet again. Agent Mike Howard of the Secret Service told me he had not spoken to Marina since the exhumation of Lee Harvey Oswald’s body in 1981. But he recalled with clarity the frantic image of Marguerite Oswald roaming around the suite at Six Flags he also remembered that she hid a bayonet under a pillow.

Two years after the Kennedy assassination, Marina married Kenneth Porter, an electronics technician who has effectively protected her from the media. They had a son and now live in a central Texas town, not far from Dallas. This summer, with the 50th anniversary of the J.F.K. assassination looming, I sent Marina a personal letter and a written recollection of our time together and followed up this fall with a phone call. Her husband answered and confirmed that Marina had received the package but said that she had not read my reflections and did not wish to speak. Their son, Mark Porter, listened to my stories about his mother’s arrival in Fort Worth in 1962 but declined to be interviewed.

Fifty years later, I would love to ask Marina Oswald Porter why that Time magazine never moved, what happened when Lee received my letter in Dallas and why she has continued to make her home so near the place where tragedy struck. On the other hand, I would also just like to speak with an old friend. Fifty years is a long time.


[Affidavit In Any Fact by Marina Oswald #1]

Affidavit In Any Fact by Marina Oswald, the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald. She describes their time spent in America after moving from Russia. She also mentions her knowledge about Oswald's rifle.

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Affidavit In Any Fact by Marina Oswald, the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald. She describes their time spent in America after moving from Russia. She also mentions her knowledge about Oswald's rifle.

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John F. Kennedy Memorial Collection

Materials from the Dallas Police Department's extensive investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination and the events that followed. The collection includes photos taken by Dallas Times Herald photographers.

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[Affidavit In Any Fact by Marina Oswald #2] (Legal Document)

Affidavit In Any Fact by Marina Oswald, the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald. She describes their time spent in America after moving from Russia. She also mentions her knowledge about Oswald's rifle.

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[Affidavit In Any Fact by Marina Oswald #2], DSMA_91-001-1501045-2859, ark:/67531/metapth337387


5. He was linked to an assassination attempt before JFK

Seven months before the Kennedy assassination, Oswald allegedly fired into the home of an ultra-right wing Army general named Edwin Walker. The bullet, which missed Walker, was linked to Oswald’s ammunition after the Kennedy assassination.

Gerald Posner, the author of Case Closed recounted what’s known about Oswald’s actions:

Oswald had an entire book of operations for his Walker action, including photographs of Walker’s house, photographs of an area that he intended to stash the rifle, maps that he had drawn very carefully, statements of political purpose.

In the end, he wanted this to be an important historical feat, and this was to be the documentation left behind. He viewed General Walker as an up-and-coming Adolf Hitler, and that he would be the hero who stopped him on his rise to power.


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Chapters

Chapter 1 Redemption

In the surreal days that followed the 1963 assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, as the nation absorbed the dual horror of the president’s murder and the subsequent and very public killing of his alleged assassin, a churchgoer in Ann Arbor looked for a bright spot.

She was struck by the plight of Marina Oswald, the young Russian wife of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Suddenly a widow at age 22, with two young children to raise, Marina Oswald seemed overwhelmed by the media maelstrom enveloping her. Complicating her situation was that Oswald spoke very little English, was jobless and feared being returned to Russia.

The churchgoer turned to her minister at Ann Arbor’s First Presbyterian Church. What if, she proposed, the church brought Mrs. Oswald to study English at the University of Michigan? The minister, the Rev. Dr. Ernest T. Campbell, welcomed the idea as “the one thing we might do to partially redeem the tragedy.”

The church’s executive committee agreed. Before the year came to a close, the church’s leaders would invite Oswald to Ann Arbor and offer to host her while she studied at U-M.

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Chapter 2 ‘The Forgotten Woman’

The public first came to know Marina Oswald through a black-and-white photograph snapped as she left a Dallas jail, where her husband was held after the Kennedy shooting. Lee Harvey Oswald also was accused of killing Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit as authorities closed in on him in the hours after Kennedy was shot. Two days later, as authorities transferred him to a different jail, Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner.

“Now she’s a widow, too,” was the headline in newspapers across the country.

Marina Nikolayevna Oswald had two daughters, a 21-month-old toddler and an infant born just five weeks before the assassination. She had been in the United States all of six months.

Almost immediately, she began receiving offers of help – money, clothing, food, housing – from around the country. Within weeks, donations topped $12,000 and by early 1964 would grow to $70,000 – the equivalent of nearly $600,000 today.

Still, the help for Oswald paled compared to the support for the widows and children of President Kennedy and Officer Tippit. Just as many had sympathy and compassion for Oswald, others believed she was somehow complicit in her husband’s killing of the president. She was one of the most well-known women in the country but at the same time had become what one newspaper called “the forgotten woman.”

“What is America going to do about it?” wrote editors of The Deseret News. “Are we going to vilify and harass her for what her husband was accused of doing? Or are we going to provide help simply because here is a human being in trouble who desperately needs help?”

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Chapter 3 ‘Be Socially Relevant’

Records do not show who conceived the idea to invite Oswald to study at U-M, only that the person was a member of First Presbyterian who also taught at the English Language Institute. Based on U-M and church records, this may well have been Maurine Hovey Nolan, an ELI lecturer and longtime member of the congregation.

At the time of the assassination, she and other First Presbyterian members were starting their second year with Ernest Campbell as their minister. Social justice drove Campbell, and he urged worshippers to engage with the world to right its wrongs. He challenged his church – the oldest in Ann Arbor – to “be politically and socially relevant.”

“Those who insist that the church should not become embroiled … are really pressing for an irrelevant church,” he preached.

His goal was simple yet demanding. He encouraged First Presbyterian members to “maintain a vital balance between personal religion and constructive involvement in the ongoing life of the world.”

This struck a chord with someone in the congregation who believed the church could help Lee Harvey Oswald’s widow through education, assimilation and the English Language Institute.

The first of its kind in the country, the ELI was established to provide instruction and support for international students who speak English as a second language. It started in 1941 with nine students. By the early ’60s it was enrolling hundreds of students a year for intensive courses in vocabulary, composition, and grammar. Outside of class, students visited museums, zoos and sporting events while practicing their English.

It would seem a perfect fit for Oswald. After her husband’s death, she said she wanted to stay in the United States and improve her English. She said she understood English better than she was able to speak the language. She relied upon Russian interpreters during interviews with the Secret Service, FBI and the Warren Commission that investigated Kennedy’s assassination. (“Other than Russian, I don’t know any other language,” she testified.)

When commission members presented her with paperwork written in English by her husband, she recognized his handwriting but did not comprehend the words. “For me, that is a dark forest, a heap of papers.”

It was her meetings with the Warren Commission, as well interviews with the FBI, that prevented Oswald from coming to Ann Arbor in 1964. By the end of the year, however, she was ready to travel from Texas to become a student.

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Chapter 4 ‘She Wished to Face Reality’

U-M has had its share of students with famous family ties – often parents who are high-profile politicians, Hollywood stars and corporate CEOs. The traditional campus response has been to treat such students no differently than any of the other young men and women in classrooms and dormitories.

Not so with Oswald. Scheduled to start classes in January 1965, Oswald’s arrival was leaked just days before Christmas, forcing the University to acknowledge her enrollment in a terse news release. Oswald “has indicated a desire to continue her education and mastery of the language is a necessary preliminary to such study.” She would be one of 28,000 students on campus.

“We regard Mrs. Oswald as a typical institute student,” said ELI Director John C. Catford when her enrollment was announced.

Church leaders had suggested to Oswald that she use an assumed name when coming to Ann Arbor, but she declined. “She wished to face reality, not dodge it,” the church reported in its newsletter.

She managed to evade the media upon arriving (“She slipped into our community at night by train while a battery of reporters were waiting hawkishly at the airport,” Campbell said), but photographers were waiting when she stepped onto campus the morning of January 5 for ELI orientation.

Standing outside the North University Building (located roughly near today’s Biological Sciences Building), Oswald agreed to be photographed. She was 23, neatly dressed in a skirt, sweater and winter coat, and looking like a graduate student with books tucked under her arm. She described Michiganders as “like the weather – crisp and cool.” She made no mention of her young daughters, and said she could not provide any interviews because she had a pending book contract.

“Please tell a good story,” she told reporters. “I’m just like everybody else, and I’ve had more than enough.”

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Chapter 5 ‘She is Very Grateful’

For all of Oswald’s notoriety, there was little reaction to her being on campus. The Michigan Daily made no mention of her presence (“We just don’t think she’s news,” the editor said). A few letters arrived at President Harlan H. Hatcher’s office, most from writers who were angry enough to write but not to the point of signing their names.

“Send her back to Texas and if she felt any sorrow at all for the horrible thing her husband did to Jackie and all of the decent citizens of the United States, she would go back to Russia (where she belongs),” said a writer from the Upper Peninsula. “Please get her away from Michigan. In my book she belongs where her husband is. Where is your respect for President Kennedy?”

A few men sent letters to the ELI office in hopes of striking up a romantic relationship with Oswald. “If you are willing to consider me to become your companion, I shall give you my best to make you happy and pull you out of the morass of bitterness,” came an offer from Bangalore.

The strongest reaction to Oswald’s enrollment came from the people who were sponsoring her visit: the 2,300-member congregation of First Presbyterian Church. They had no idea their church had offered to host her, to the point of leaders offering to pay for her transportation, housing and coursework out of their own pockets. (Oswald declined all financial offers.)

When the executive committee of the church governing body, known as the Session, reached out to Oswald in late 1963, it had done so in secret “in order that Mrs. Oswald might be free from the pressure of publicity in considering the offer.” Its members never informed the Session or any other congregant of the invitation, or of Oswald’s acceptance. When the Session convened within a week of Oswald’s arrival, half its members – upset and embarrassed about being left in the dark – were angry to the point of wanting to reprimand the church leadership.

A week later, Campbell met with his congregation and explained the executive committee’s thinking.

“It was the committee’s hope to keep the matter from becoming public information in order that Mrs. Oswald’s opportunity to review the matter objectively would not be lost,” he said. “Mrs. Oswald is now well along in an eight weeks’ course at the English Language Institute and is living in one of the homes of the congregation. She is very grateful to the Institute and to the Church.”

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Chapter 6 The Graduate

As a single woman in the Soviet Union, Marina Oswald had studied at a technical pharmacy school in Leningrad. At U-M, she would join 29 international students – from Mexico, Israel, Greece, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere – hoping to improve their English. Together, they would learn and study five hours every weekday for eight weeks.

“I’m sure Mrs. Oswald could conquer English in any school in America. The reason she is here is that we can teach her more in a shorter period of time,” said Catford, the Institute’s director. He said he was “frankly surprised” at her command of English.

In addition to attending classes, Oswald made several trips to Detroit, including to a Detroit Pistons game. She was never recognized.

As Oswald was in her final weeks of campus, her name – once again – made news around the country. Without any sources, national news outlets began reporting that two women students allegedly attacked Oswald in a campus building. Ann Arbor police and campus officials vehemently denied the reports Oswald herself told them she had not been assaulted in any way, physically or verbally.

And then she was gone. In a February 26 ceremony in Rackham Assembly Hall, Oswald received an engraved U-M certificate alongside her classmates. An ELI official described her as an average student. She left town two days later, an alumna of Michigan.

Several years later, Ernest Campbell reflected on the episode initiated by one of his congregants. By then, he had moved on from Ann Arbor to the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City. He shared what it was like for First Presbyterian to have been in the spotlight helping Oswald and of the letters that arrived on his desk.

“There were some who were quick and hot to say that what we did was unpatriotic. Others told us that our action was unwise, still others that it was unfair. One woman said that she had belonged to a church for forty years and what it had done for her in all that time she could write on the back of a postage stamp,” Campbell said. “I answered every letter, rightly or wrongly feeling it the obligation of my ministry to do so. I said in effect to each person who criticized, ‘The one thing you haven’t shown us is that what we have done is unlike Christ.’”

Sources: English Language Institute records First Presbyterian Church (Ann Arbor) records and Harlan Henthorne Hatcher Papers, all at the Bentley Historical Library A history, the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1826-1988: incorporating “A sesquicentennial history” 1976, newly revised and updated, editors Lila Miller, Robert M. Warner, Carl R. Geider Warren Commission Report and Hearings “Follow Me,” by Ernest T. Campbell


Oswald’s chilling final hours before killing Kennedy: speaking Russian, playing with his daughter, sleeping in

Ruth Paine, a quiet Quaker, returned home from the grocery store. On her front lawn, there was her tenant Marina Oswald, playing with her daughter Junie. And there was Marina’s volatile, semi-estranged husband, Lee.

“I was surprised to see him,” Paine would say later.

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Paine got out of the car and spoke to the Oswalds in Russian.

Lee — Lee Oswald, middle name Harvey — learned the language in the Soviet Union, where he had moved after his service in the U.S. Marines. (He wasn’t so great at speaking it, though. One of the thousands of documents released Thursday in connection with President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is a memo about a wiretap that refers to his “terrible hardly recognizable Russian.”)

In Russia, Oswald met Marina, who was now living with Paine, teaching her Russian. Oswald, 24, an odd and boorish man, stayed downtown in a rooming house. He came by only on the weekends.

“I had no advance notice,” Paine said later, “and he had never before come without asking whether he could.”

Oswald was a headache. The FBI had visited Paine’s house twice to ask about him, apparently nervous about his meetings with known communists. His marriage to Marina was troubled. The couple would fight, then make up. Fight, then makeup. Oswald showed up, Paine thought, on a makeup mission. He was on his best behavior, even helping her with the groceries. On their way in, she turned to him and said in Russian, “Our president is coming to town.”

The day before Oswald shot Kennedy in Dealey Plaza, there was a certain calmness about him. He didn’t argue with Marina, who had just given birth to their second child. He was more playful than he had ever been with Junie, trying to catch butterflies and falling oak wings out in the yard.

“That evening as the twilight deepened, it was still warm enough in Texas in November to fool around outside,” Norman Mailer wrote in “Oswald’s Tale,” his 800-page biography of the assassin. “One can have a sense of final moments — the last time we catch oak wings together.”

Everyone sat down for dinner.

“The conversation at supper was so ordinary that no one remembers it,” wrote Priscilla Johnson McMillan, in her book “Marina and Lee.” In fact, Paine “had the impression that relations between the young Oswalds were ‘cordial,’ ‘friendly,’ ‘warm’ — like a couple making up after a small spat.”

Of course, nobody in the kitchen knew what Oswald had planned for the next day. But Marina certainly knew what her husband was capable of. She knew Oswald kept a rifle rolled up in a blanket in Paine’s garage. And she knew who and what her husband despised. Earlier that year, in March, Oswald had tried — unsuccessfully — to kill Edwin Walker, a retired Army general and anti-communist.

During the Warren Commission hearings, Marina was asked how she knew of the failed attack. “That evening we went out,” Marina testified. “It got to be about 10 or 10:30, he wasn’t home yet, and I began to be worried.” She looked around the house and found a note from him that began, “If I’m arrested …”

He also left her a pile of cash.

“I couldn’t understand at all what can he be arrested for,” Marina testified. “When he came back, I asked him what had happened. He was very pale. I don’t remember the exact time, but it was very late. And he told me not to ask him any questions. He only told me that he had shot at General Walker.”

Now, months later, after putting Junie to bed he asked Marina if he could help her wash the dinner dishes — again, out of character. In recounting the scene, Mailer wrote, “Oswald has reached that zone of serenity that some men attain before combat, when anxiety is deep enough to feel like quiet exaltation: You are finally going into an action that will be equal in dimension to the importance of your life.”

In passing, Oswald told Marina he wouldn’t be back that weekend. He would stay downtown, where he had a new job at the Texas School Book Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza.


Near the end of Case Closed, Gerald Posner quotes historian William Manchester, who tries to sum up the yearning of conspiracy theorists for a larger meaning: “[I]f you put the murdered President of the United States on one side of a scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn’t balance. You want to add something weightier to Oswald.” And yet, what could be weightier than the mystery of a human psyche? Does the effort to understand Oswald lead you to agree with Manchester — to want something weightier — or do you find Oswald weighty enough?

Don DeLillo: If Oswald were truly such a weightless individual, the Warren Report would not have to number 26 back-breaking volumes. He was a man who managed in a brief lifetime to compile an extraordinary personal history, dense with incident and shifting context. He joined the U.S. Marines, quoted Marx to his barracks mates, served at a sensitive U-2 base in Japan and would eventually develop connections of various kinds, some documented, others only conjectured, with people of provocative political shadings — from Tokyo to Moscow to Minsk and from there to New Orleans, Mexico City and Dallas.

There are the men who knew Oswald. Then there is the man who killed him. More connections, further implications, particularly with regard to organized crime figures.

It is true that some theorists have searched for the conspiracy that explains everything as a way out of the mist that has drifted through the decades. But who were the conspirators? If there was a plot, it was small, crude and largely improvised — not the master plan that would allegedly balance the loss of the president. Our state in the world, the fact that we are human, is the only element the equation needs in order to be balanced. We’re able to think into the stars, imagine alternative lives for ourselves, and there are times when we feel equal, some of us, to the vast social reality around us.

What else would make a man decide he might run for president?

Oswald was detached, frequently foolish, sometimes cruel and persistently self-deluding. At times, an unredeemable little rat. But he found a way to link himself with a man who was shaping history. This is what guns are for, to bring balance to the world.

Edward J. Epstein: The real question is: Weighty enough to do what? Oswald may have been deeply flawed, unstable, and suffered delusions of grandeur, but such flaws did not rule him out as a potential assassin. He proved his capabilities in April 1963 by surveilling General Edwin Walker, finding a concealed sniper’s position, firing a shot that missed him by only inches, and escaping (with photos to prove his participation). His lack of balance and “weightiness” might have made it easier to influence him.

Gerald Posner: I am not cursed with a desire to find a larger meaning in Kennedy’s death. In my view, history is often changed violently by one person. Political assassination is part of the planet’s social history. JFK was a charismatic young president with much potential for the future, and I understand that many people don’t want to accept the fact that life could be so random and uncontrollable that a 24-year-old sociopath armed with a cheap rifle could destroy all that positive promise. But that is exactly how things often happen. Sept. 11 is a vivid reminder of how random, unpredictable, and uncontrollable political violence can be. Just because someone like JFK seems to have a more charmed life, he certainly isn’t exempt from that type of violence. Maybe my ready acceptance of political violence and assassination as a part of our history and culture set the basis from which I was willing to always consider that Oswald might have acted alone.

Mr. Epstein and Mr. Posner wrote the following replies to the preceding answers:

Edward J. Epstein: I agree with Posner that “Too many conspiracy theorists focus on technical questions about the shots that killed the president, or the quality of the medical evidence, or spend time trying to establish that a plot existed somewhere to kill JFK.” The endless tangle of questions about bullets, trajectories, wounds, time sequences, and inconsistent testimony surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has obsessively fascinated, if not entirely blinded, a generation of assassination buffs to the neglect of Oswald himself.

Oswald was looking for a conspiracy to join ever since (or perhaps before) he defected to the Soviet Union. Indeed, ever since he was handed a pamphlet about the Rosenberg prosecution at the age of 15, he had sought out affiliations with political organizations, front groups and foreign nations that opposed the policies of the U.S. When he was 16, he wrote to the Socialist Party, “I am a Marxist and have been studying Socialist Principles for well over five years,” and he requested information about joining their Youth League. He also attempted to persuade a friend to join the youth auxiliary of the Communist Party. He subsequently made membership inquiries to such organizations as the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Labor Party, The Gus Hall-Benjamin Davis Defense Committee, the Daily Worker, The Fair Play for Cuba Committee and the Communist Party USA — correspondence that brought him under surveillance by the FBI.

While still in the early stages of his flirtation with political causes, Oswald joined the Marine Corps. In October 1959, after a two-year stint as a radar operator, Oswald became the first Marine to defect to the Soviet Union. In Moscow, he delivered a letter stating, “I affirm that my allegiance is to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” Not only did he publicly renounce his American citizenship but he told the U.S. consul that he intended to turn over to the Soviet Union military secrets that he had acquired while serving in the Marines, adding that he had data of “special interest” to the Russians. Since he indeed had exposure to military secrets such as the U-2 spy plane and radar identification system, and since he may have collected data while on active duty, his defection had serious espionage implications. Oswald had through this act put himself in the hands of his hosts. He was now completely dependent on the Soviets for financial support, legal status and protection.

Before disappearing into the Soviet hinterland for a year, Oswald spelled out his operational creed in a long letter to his brother. From Moscow, he wrote presciently of his willingness to commit murder for a political cause: “I want you to understand what I say now, I do not say lightly, or unknowingly, since I’ve been in the military. … In the event of war I would kill any American who put a uniform on in defense of the American Government” — and then ominously added for emphasis, “Any American.”

When Oswald returned from the Soviet Union in June 1962, joined by a Russian wife, he moved to Dallas, and lectured his more liberal acquaintances on the need for violent action rather than mere words. General Edwin A. Walker, an extreme conservative who had been active in Dallas organizing anti-Castro guerrillas, became, in the spring of 1963, a particular focus of Oswald’s attention. He repeatedly suggested to a German geologist, Volkmar Schmidt, and other friends, that General Walker should be treated like a “murderer at large.” In this context, he stalked Walker’s movements, photographing his residence from several angles had his wife photograph him, dressed entirely in black, with his revolver strapped on a holster on his hip, his sniper’s rifle in his right hand, and two newspapers — The Worker and The Militant — in his left hand and made three copies of the photograph, one of which he inscribed, dated 𔄝–IV󈞫” and sent to a Dallas acquaintance, George de Mohrenschildt. Oswald then went to Walker’s house and fired a shot at him that missed his head by inches, demonstrating that he had the capacity as well as the willingness to kill “any American.”

After the failed assassination, Oswald went to New Orleans, where he became the organizer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Aside from printing leaflets, staging demonstrations, getting arrested and appearing on local radio talk shows in support of Castro that summer, Oswald attempted to personally infiltrate an anti-Castro group that was organizing sabotage raids against Cuba. He explained to friends that he could figure out his “anti-imperialist” policy by “reading between the lines” of The Militant and other such publications. In August, he wrote the central committee of the Communist Party USA asking, “Whether in your opinion, I can compete with anti-progressive forces above ground, or whether I should always remain in the background, i.e. underground.” During this hot summer, while Oswald spent evenings practicing sighting his rifle in his backyard, The Militant raged on about the Kennedy administration’s “terrorist bandit” attacks on Cuba. And as the semi-secret war against Castro escalated, Oswald expressed increasing interest in reaching Cuba.

Oswald told his wife he planned to hijack an airliner to Havana, suggesting, as the summer progressed, that he might even earn a position in Castro’s government. On Sept. 9, in a report that appeared on the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Castro himself warned that if American leaders continued “aiding plans to eliminate Cuban leaders … they themselves will not be safe.”

Soon afterwards, telling his wife that they might never meet again, he went to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. To convince the Cubans of his bona fides — and seriousness — he had prepared a dossier on himself, which included a 10-page resume, outlining his revolutionary activities, newspaper clippings about his defection to the Soviet Union, propaganda material he had printed, documents he had stolen from a printing company engaged in classified map reproduction for the U.S Army, his correspondence with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee executives, and photographs linking him to the Walker shooting. During the next five days, he traveled back and forth between the Soviet and Cuban embassies attempting to get the necessary visas.

When Oswald returned to Dallas that October, he assumed the identity “O.H. Lee” and, separating himself from his family, he moved to a rooming house. He then got a job at the Texas School Book Depository, which overlooked the convergence of the three main streets into central Dallas.

On Oct. 18, Oswald’s visa was approved by the Cuban Foreign Ministry (despite the fact that he had not received a Soviet visa, as required.) Three weeks later, he wrote another letter to the Soviet Embassy, saying: “Had I been able to reach the Soviet Embassy in Havana as planned, the embassy there would have had time to complete our business.”

The issue is whether or not he found the conspiracy he sought. Or, since he advertised his willingness so widely, it found him.

Gerald Posner: Despite our differences, I believe that after four decades, many of us who have researched the case are closer than ever to sharing a common understanding of what happened on Nov. 22, 1963.

Don DeLillo says, “The truth is knowable. But probably not, ever, incontrovertible.” And there are admittedly many rumors, false stories, and faded memories strewn along the path for any investigator of the assassination. Yet I believe that there is an incontrovertible truth that is based on credible evidence. I would modify DeLillo’s conclusion only to the extent of saying that while the truth is knowable, it is not, ever, something on which most people will agree.

As for Edward J. Epstein, while he seems convinced that Oswald was JFK’s assassin, he is not persuaded that he acted alone. “Just because there is a single shooter does not mean there is not a conspiracy that manipulated him,” says Epstein. That was a fair statement in the mid-1960s, in the years immediately following the assassination, because there was then a very real possibility that Oswald might have conspired with others to have killed the president. But now, 40 years after that fateful day in Dallas, there must be some shred of real evidence — not just conjecture and speculation — to keep that statement valid. Is there an iota of evidence that anyone contacted Oswald to bring him into a plot to murder the president once JFK had set his trip to Texas? No. The conspirators needed a time and place for the assassination, but Oswald, in Dallas, does not have associations that prompt lingering questions or doubts. Even Epstein only refers to possible influences in Oswald’s life before he settled in Dallas in early October 1963. Absent new evidence about how someone either influenced Oswald to kill the president, or conspired with him, I believe that after 40 years, historians must start drawing the reasonable conclusion that there is no evidence of conspiracy because there is no conspiracy.

DeLillo, in his short answer about Oswald, does a better job of capturing the real person than is done by most conspiracy theorists who fail to recognize the very human traits and qualities that eventually compelled him to shoot JFK. DeLillo understands Oswald’s remarkable personal history, and as such realizes that the key to unraveling any answers about Kennedy’s death has to start and end with Oswald.


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