Lee Harvey Oswald

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File:Lho-133A.jpg
This photo, showing Oswald wielding a rifle, a handgun, and the newspapers The Militant and The Worker, was one of three taken on March 31, 1963 in the backyard of his Dallas home by his wife Marina. The Warren Commission labeled this photo as exhibit 133-A. Since Oswald's death, questions have risen about the authenticity of the photos, although after examining allegations that they were faked, the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970s concluded that they are genuine.

Lee Harvey Oswald (October 18, 1939November 24, 1963) assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy and then murdered Dallas Texas policeman J. D. Tippit on November 22, 1963, as determined by four formal federal investigations into the assassination. Among these, the 1964 Warren Commission concluded Oswald acted alone. The 1978 House Select Committee on Assassinations, convened largely as a result of continued public uncertainy about the Warren Commission's findings, again concluded that Oswald had assassinated President Kennedy. However, this investigation, conducted over a three year period, concluded that President Kennedy "most likely was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy." Numerous Kennedy assassination theories have been developed over the decades. However, many historians and authors accept the basic conclusion of the Warren Commission report that Oswald, alone, was involved, because no compelling alternative suspect or co-conspirator has ever emerged. Some critics question the conclusion that Oswald participated in the asassination and have long claimed Oswald was not involved, or that he was involved only peripherally. During his short lifetime he was considered a security risk by both the Soviet KGB and the American FBI.

Early life and Marine Corps service

Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father, Robert Edward Lee Oswald, died before he was born and his mother Marguerite Claverie raised him along with two older siblings, his brother Robert and his half-brother John Pic (Marguerite's child by her first marriage). His mother is said to have doted on him to excess but despite this has been characterized as domineering and quarrelsome. They lived an itinerant lifestyle and before the age of 18 Oswald had lived in 22 different residences and attended 12 different schools, mostly around New Orleans and Dallas. Oswald's mother was of French and German descent and raised him in the Lutheran faith.

As a child Oswald was withdrawn and temperamental. After they moved in with John Pic (who had joined the US Coast Guard and was stationed in New York City) Oswald struck his sister-in-law and threatened her with a knife. His truancy resulted in visits to psychiatrist Renatus Hartogs who diagnosed the 14 year old Oswald as having a "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies." In reaction Marguerite returned to New Orleans with her son before he could be institutionalized.

Oswald attended school infrequently and never received a high school diploma. Throughout his life he had trouble with spelling and writing coherently. His letters, diary and other writings have led some to suggest he was dyslexic while others have contended his poor writing and spelling skills were the result of a sporadic education. Nonetheless he read voraciously and as a result sometimes asserted he was better educated than those around him. At around age 15 he became an ardent Marxist solely from reading about the topic. He wrote in his diary, "I was looking for a key to my environment, and then I discovered socialist literature. I had to dig for my books in the back dusty shelves of libraries."

Also at age 15 Oswald had been a member of the New Orleans chapter of the Civil Air Patrol. Although a Marxist, Oswald wished to join the US Marines. He idolized his older brother Robert and wore Robert's US Marine ring. This relationship seems to have overridden any ideological conflict for Oswald and enlisting in the Marines may also have been a way to escape from his overbearing mother. He enlisted in the USMC in October 1956, a week after his 17th birthday.

Oswald was trained as a radar operator and assigned first to the Marine Corps air station at El Toro, California, then to the naval air station at Atsugi, Japan. Though Atsugi was a base for the U-2 spy planes which flew over the USSR there is no evidence Oswald was involved in that operation. Oswald's experience in the Marine Corps was by all accounts unpleasant. Small and frail compared to the other Marines, he was nicknamed Ozzie Rabbit after a cartoon character. His shyness and Soviet sympathies did not endear him to his fellow Marines. Ostracism only seemed to provoke him into being a more ardent and outspoken communist and ultimately his nickname became Oswaldskovich. The Marine had subscribed to The Worker and taught himself rudimentary Russian. Oswald was court martialed twice, first as a result of accidently shooting himself in the elbow with a small, unauthorized handgun and later for starting a fight with a sergeant he thought responsible for the punishment he received. He was demoted from private first class to private and briefly served time in the brig. He was not punished for another incident when, while on sentry duty one night while stationed in the Philippines, he inexplicably fired his rifle into the jungle. By the end of his Marine career Oswald was doing menial labor.

The Soviet Union

File:Oswald-1959.jpg
Photo of Oswald taken in October 1959 shortly after his arrival in the Soviet Union. Oswald dedicated the photo on the back to his future wife's aunt and uncle in 1961. It was discovered in Minsk in 1992.

In October 1959 Oswald went to the Soviet Union. He was nineteen and the trip was well-planned in advance. Along with having taught himself rudimentary Russian he had saved his Marine Corps salary, got an early "hardship" discharge by (falsely) claiming he needed to care for his ailing mother in New Orleans and submitted several fictional applications to foreign universities in order to obtain a student visa (and possibly help avoid Marine Corps reserve duty). After spending one day with his mother in New Orleans he departed by ship for the Soviet Union, first arriving in France, then England and eventually Finland as part of a package tour. [1] When he arrived in the USSR and showed up unexpectedly at the US Embassy in Moscow he said he wanted to renounce his US citizenship. [2] When the Navy Department learned of this it changed Oswald's Marine Corps discharge from "hardship/honorable" to "dishonorable." Oswald's wish to remain in the USSR was initially applauded by the Soviets and described by at least one western journalist as a "defection," but although he had some technical knowledge acquired in the Marines they soon discovered he had little of real value to offer the Soviet Union and his application for Soviet residency was rejected [3]. In response, Oswald made a bloody but minor cut to his left wrist in his hotel room bathtub. After bandaging his superficial injury the cautious Russians kept him under psychiatric observation at the Botkin Hospital. [4][5] Although this attempt may have been no more than an attention-getting ruse, the Soviet government feared an international incident if he attempted something similar again. Against the advice of the KGB, a high-level Presidium decision allowed Oswald to remain in the USSR. Although he had wanted to remain in Moscow and attend Moscow University, he was sent to Minsk, west of Moscow in Byelorussia. The city had been rebuilt after World War II and was considered a model of Soviet urban prosperity. Moreover there were no foreign diplomatic missions or press corps in Minsk, where the young American malcontent could be kept away from foreigners and the US press and meanwhile be easily watched by the security services.

Oswald seemed to thrive at first. He was given a job as a metal lathe operator at the Gorizont (Horizon) Electronics Factory in Minsk, a huge facility which produced radio and televisions along with military and space electronic components. He was given a rent-subsidized, fully furnished studio apartment in a prestigeous building under Gorizont's administration and in addition to his factory pay received monetary subsidies from the Red Cross (a Soviet organization entirely separate from the international medical aid organization). This represented an idyllic existence by Soviet-era working-class standards.[6] He was called Alek by his friends, who thought the name Lee sounded too Chinese. Oswald owned a small bore shotgun, went bird hunting with friends, frequently attended opera and performances concerts and dated women he met at trade union dances and the nearby Foreign Language School.

Oswald was under constant surveillance by the KGB during his thirty month stay in Minsk. The local KGB office had never had its own American case and they threw themselves into the task, building the lengthy KGB file no. 31451, a mostly mundane account of Oswald's daily life.[7] The KGB assigned Oswald the codename Lehoy, ironically meaning slick but also a phonetic play on Lee Harvey. Oswald was spied upon by his close friend and fellow worker Pavel Golovachev, the son of Red Air Force General Golovachev, a senior air defense district commander in Siberia at the time and a fomer World War II fighter pilot ace, a Hero of the Soviet Union famous for downing a German warplane by ramming his plane into it when he ran out of machine gun ammunition. Pavel Golovachev took many intimate photos of Oswald at home and at play in Minsk which no doubt were primarily intended for KGB consumption. He gave copies of some to Oswald and many later surfaced during the Warren investigation. In 1991 and 1992 interviews Golovachev said that at first he agreed to spy on Oswald, believing he might be a US intelligence officer. However, after getting to know him (and following KGB instructions to tempt Oswald with information from his father's air defense command, which didn't succeed) he concluded Oswald was who he said he was, an American who wanted to experience life in the Soviet Union and write a book about it (which Oswald began almost immediately when he got back to the United States).

Golovachev said Oswald never talked about the dramatic circumstances of his arrival in Moscow, his suicide attempt or any desire to have Soviet citizenship. He gave the impression his arrival in the Soviet Union had not been contentious and did not speak badly about the USA, refraining from talk about politics in general. When asked by ordinary Russians if life was better in the USA or USSR, Golovachev recalled Oswald would reply that in his opinion there were pros and cons to both places and then try to steer the conversation elsewhere. Eventually, on a visit to Oswald's apartment in the spring of 1961 Golovachev warned him he was being reported upon by those close to him, including himself, a warning which was probably recorded by KGB microphones planted in the apartment.

Meanwhile Oswald had tired of his relatively monotonous Soviet life. The Soviet Union's oppressive bureaucracy brought him to believe the country was a poorly implemented perversion of Marxist goals, while he believed himself to be a pure Marxist. Moreover Oswald had felt unappreciated when he was assigned factory work in Minsk instead of being admitted to study at the University of Moscow as he had requested. He gradually grew bored with the limited recreation available in Minsk and was stunned when co-worker Ella Germann refused his marriage proposal and then rejected him. In 1992 Germann said Oswald had talked about the two of them going to live in Czechoslovakia or even Yugoslavia, where he thought Communism was more liberal. He also told her that he was hiding in Minsk because the US had "hunted" him in Moscow and if he returned to the United States he would be "shot" (executed). In truth, while Oswald was saying these things to Ella he had made his first attempt to write the US embassy in Moscow about returning to the USA, although the KGB intercepted the letter and never forwarded it to the embassy.

File:Marina prusakova 1959.jpg
Marina Prusakova, Minsk 1959

At a dance in early 1961 Oswald met Marina Alexandrovna Nikolayevna Medvedeva Prusakova, a troubled 19 year old pharmacology student from a broken family in Leningrad now living with her aunt and uncle in Minsk. While later reports described her uncle as a colonel in the KGB or MVD, he was a lumber industry expert in the MVD (Ministry of Interior) with a bureaucratic rank equivalent to colonel. The MVD at that time was analogous with the US departments of Justice and Interior combined and Marina's uncle administered lumbering projects using inmate labor which by the time of Nikita Khruschev consisted mostly of non-political criminal prisoners. Oswald and Marina married less than a month and a half after they met. Observers have remarked that Oswald was likely still on the rebound from his failed relationship with Ella while Marina may have married Oswald either for his high standard of living (the apartment and extra privileges) or to emigrate to the United States. "Maybe I was not in love with Alik as I ought to have been," she said much later (for example, after she was in the US but before the Kennedy assassination she wrote love letters to two ex-boyfriends).

Marina soon became pregnant and gave birth to their daughter June. Oswald had never formally renounced his US citizenship (the US Embassy in Moscow had retained his US passport) and began seeking permission for the three of them to go to the United States.

Most Russian witnesses to Oswald's time in the USSR (first interviewed in 1991 and 1992 by Peter Vronsky [8]) recalled Oswald as a boyish, silly and immature youth: He was nineteen when he arrived in the USSR, twenty-two when he left. He was described by some as shallow, with limited intelligence, a poor and lazy worker but almost all remembered him as "sympathetic" (charming and friendly). He did not drink or smoke, which the Russians found strange. His only vice seemed to be sweets and pastries, about which his girlfriends later said he was annoyingly parsimonious. Most Russians who knew him recall that once the thrill of meeting an American wore off, Oswald was rather dull company with little of interest to say. A shelf in his apartment was filled with books on Marxism but his understanding of it seemed rudimentary. Neighbors who lived directly above him, with windows looking onto his balcony below, were critical in their 1991-92 recollections, describing him as a rude lout who was frequently heard berating Marina for her apparent lack of cooking and cleaning skills, saying Marina complained to them that Oswald had struck her on occasion.

Oswald's Russian language proficiency was described by all the Russian witnesses as borderline coherent, but Russians in general are highly critical when characterizing linguistic abilities. Russians who encountered Oswald when he first arrived in Moscow unanimously recalled that his Russian was incoherent beyond basic phrases such as, "I need a fork." Russians who knew him through the duration of his stay in Minsk from January 1960 to June 1962 said that although Oswald's spoken Russian improved over time, his comprehension did not. Pavel Golovachev remembered how Marina would occasionally bluntly berate and belittle Lee to other Russians while he was in the room without him catching on. Letters written in Russian by Oswald (reproduced among Warren Commission exhibits which include CE 1, the letter he wrote to Marina the day he is believed to have attempted the assassination of General Walker [9]) are all poorly written and ungrammatical. Declassified CIA documents relating to phone calls made by Oswald in Mexico City shortly before the assassination characterize his Russian as still barely coherent and broken, "a language he could not manage." [10]

KGB reports, confirmed in 1992 by Oswald's former friend Eric Titovetz (then a medical student), recount that in December 1961, approximately six months before he left the Soviet Union, Oswald manufactured a pipe bomb using parts he took home from the factory's metal shop and (presumably) filling it with gunpowder from ammunition for his shotgun. The KGB became concerned when an apparent assassination attempt was made on the life of Soviet Premier Khrushchev several weeks later on a visit to a Minsk area resort. Oswald threw the pipe bomb out into the garbage where the KGB recovered it. There has been speculation that Oswald, knowing he was under KGB observation, made the bomb to hasten the Soviets into issuing him an exit visa and indeed on December 25, 1961, within weeks of the incident, exit visas for both Lee and Marina were approved (the pipe bomb may have been a ploy similar to his earlier suicide attempt, this time with an opposite goal). The Oswalds' departure was delayed by a further six months because US authorities were reluctant to approve Marina's entry into the US.

After nearly a year of paperwork and waiting, on June 1, 1962 the young family left the Soviet Union for the United States. Having started his teens as a lonely troubled truant in New York Lee Oswald had been brought back by his mother to New Orleans, where he developed numerous friendships and acquaintances during his high school years. He did likewise in the Marines but led his most active social life in the Soviet Union where he had a number of girlfriends, married, fathered a child, formed social bonds, went on picnics and hunting trips, to parties, to dinners in people's homes, dances and moved among a broad range of people. However, after returning to the United States in 1962 Oswald would have few friends or acquaintances other than George de Mohrenschildt. He became disillusioned and isolated even from his own family, seeing them together for the last time in November 1962 on Thankgiving Day. He eventually separated from his wife Marina and their infant daughter, living alone in distant rooming houses. There are periods in the final months of his life during which his movements and activities have remained undocumented. Some observers have remarked that during the last year of his life Oswald appeared to change physically, rapidly balding and appearing to age significantly beyond his twenty-four years.

Dallas

Back in the United States, the Oswalds settled in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and Lee attempted to write his memoir and commentary on Soviet life, a small manuscript called The Collective. He soon gave up the idea but his search for literary feedback put him in touch with the area's close-knit community of anti-Communist Russian émigrés. While merely tolerating the belligerent and arrogant Lee Oswald, they sympathized with Marina, partly because she was in a foreign country with no knowledge of English (which her husband refused to teach her) and because Oswald had begun to beat her. Although they eventually abandoned Marina when she made no sign of leaving him, Oswald had found an unlikely best friend in the well-educated and worldly petroleum geologist George de Mohrenschildt, who liked playing the provocateur and enjoyed putting people off with his disagreeable and sullen Marxist friend. Marina meanwhile befriended a married couple, Quaker Ruth Paine and her husband Michael.

In Dallas Oswald got a job with the Leslie Welding Company but disliked the work and quit after three months. He then found a position at the graphic arts firm of Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall as a photoprint trainee. The company has been cited as doing classified work for the US government but this was limited to typesetting for maps and produced in a section Oswald had no access to. He did use photographic and typesetting equipment in the unsecured area to create falsified identification documents, including some in the name of an alias he created, Alex James Hidell. His co-workers and supervisors eventually grew frustrated with his inefficency, lack of precision, inattention and rudeness to others (to the point where fistfights had threatened to break out). After six months his supervisor finally terminated Oswald after seeing him reading a Russian satiric magazine (Krokodil) in the cafeteria.

Attempted assassination of General Walker

General Edwin Walker was an outspoken anti-communist, segregationist and member of the John Birch Society who had been commanding officer of the Army's 24th Infantry Division based in West Germany under NATO supreme command until he was relieved of his command in 1961 by JFK for distributing right-wing literature to his troops. Walker resigned from the service and returned to his native Texas. He ran in the six-person Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1962 but lost to John Connally, who went on to win the race. When Walker came to Oswald's attention in February 1963 the general was making front page news with an evangelist partner in an anti-Communist tour called Operation Midnight Ride.

Oswald put Walker under surveillance, taking pictures of the general's home and nearby railroad tracks (with the same camera Marina later used to take the famous backyard poses). Oswald mail-ordered a rifle (see below) using his alias Alex Hidell, having already mail-ordered a revolver in January. He planned the assassination for April 10, ten days after he was fired from Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall. He chose a Wednesday evening since the neighborhood would be relatively crowded because of services in a church adjacent to Walker's home: He would not stand out and could mingle with the crowds if necessary to make his escape. He left a note in Russian for Marina with instructions for her to follow should he be caught. Walker was sitting at a desk in his dining room when Oswald fired at him from less than a hundred feet (30 m) away. Walker survived only because the bullet struck the wooden frame of the window which deflected its path, but was injured in the forearm by bullet fragments.

The Dallas police had no idea who attempted to kill Walker. Marina saw Oswald burn most of his written assassination plans in the bathtub, although she hid the note he left her in a thick Russian book of household advice, intending to bring it to the police should Oswald again try to kill Walker or anyone else. Oswald's involvement was unknown until the note and some of the photos were found by authorities following the assassination of JFK. The bullet was too badly damaged to run conclusive ballistics studies, though neutron activation tests later proved the bullet was from the same cartridge manufacturer as the two which later struck Kennedy.

New Orleans

By now Oswald was unemployed, had failed to kill General Walker and his best friend de Mohrenschildt had moved away from Dallas. While Marina (who was pregnant for the second time) stayed with the Paines, he returned to the city of his birth, New Orleans arriving on the morning of April 25 looking for work. Marina was driven there by family friend Ruth Paine after Oswald got a job with the Reilly Coffee Company in May, but he was fired for dereliction in July.

Although Oswald had Marina write to the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC about the possibility of returning to the Soviet Union he was still disillusioned with the USSR. His Marxist hopes had become pinned on Fidel Castro and Cuba and he soon became a vocal pro-Castro advocate. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was a national organization and Oswald set out on his own initiative as a one-member New Orleans chapter, spending $22.73 on 1000 flyers, 500 membership applications and 300 membership cards. He asked Marina to sign the name "A.J. Hidell" as chapter president on one card.

File:Oswaldneworleans.jpg
Oswald's New Orleans mug shot, August 9, 1963

Most of Oswald's activities consisted of passing out flyers to passersby on the street. He made a clumsy attempt to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups and briefly met with a skeptical Carlos Bringuier, New Orleans delegate for the anti-Castro Cuban Student Directorate. Several days later Bringuier and two friends confronted a man passing out pro-Castro handbills and realized it was Oswald. During an ensuing scuffle all of them were arrested and Oswald spent the night in jail. The trial got news media attention and Oswald was interviewed afterwards. He was also privately filmed passing out fliers in front of the International Trade Mart with two "volunteers" he had hired for $2 at the unemployment office. Oswald's political work in New Orleans came to an end after a WDSU radio debate between Bringuier and Oswald arranged by journalist Bill Stuckey. Instead of discussing Cuba as he had successfully done during a previous radio program, Oswald was publicly confronted with the lies and omissions he had made concerning his life and background and became audibly upset. Within a month he left New Orleans and returned to Dallas.

Oswald's four months in New Orleans were carefully scrutinized, most notably by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in his unsuccessful attempt to link Oswald to wealthy local businessman Clay Shaw, a former president of the International Trade Mart. He tried to establish connections between the two which included W. Guy Banister (a retired FBI agent and former New Orleans police chief turned private investigator) and David Ferrie (a pilot and amateur cancer researcher who wore an ill-fitting red wig because his rare illness made him hairless). Although Ferrie and Oswald were simultaneously members of the Civil Air Patrol in New Orleans during the 1950s and both appear in a CAP group photo, there is no credible evidence they had any significant contact when Oswald was a teenager, or knew each other a decade later in 1963. Banister had an office in the building at 531 Lafayette and Oswald stamped a few (but not all) of his flyers with the address 544 Camp Street. These addresses share the same structure, a building which was a block away from Oswald's job at the Reilly Coffee Company, but represent different entrances into it. There is also no credible evidence Oswald knew Banister or rented an office in the building, and many historians have noted that Oswald's letters, applications and other written statements were consistently made up of lies. 544 Camp Street was also home to the anti-Castro Cuban Revolutionary Council and some researchers have suggested Oswald used the address to embarrass them. [11] Either way, his work involving the Fair Play for Cuba Committee may have been little more than an effort to impress the Cuban government as a prelude to defecting there. [12]

Mexico

While Ruth Paine drove Marina back to Dallas, Oswald lingered in New Orleans for two more days waiting to collect a $33 unemployment check. He boarded a bus for Houston but instead of heading north to Dallas he took a bus southwest towards Laredo and the U.S.-Mexico border. Once in Mexico he hoped to continue on to Cuba, a plan he openly shared with other passengers on the bus. Arriving in Mexico City, he completed a transit visa application at the Cuban Embassy, claiming he wanted to visit the country on his way back to the Soviet Union. The Cubans insisted the Soviet Union needed to approve his journey to the USSR before he could get a Cuban visa and he was unable to get speedy cooperation from the Soviet embassy. After shuttling back and forth between consulates for five days, getting into a heated argument with the Cuban consul, making impassioned pleas to KGB agents and coming under at least some CIA surveillance as a result, Oswald returned to Dallas. It was during this period that he talked to Marina about hijacking an airliner to Cuba. He had even told her he would one day be the premier of Cuba and she teased him about it. [13] However, less than three weeks later, on October 18 the Cuban embassy in Mexico City finally approved the visa and 11 days before the assassination Oswald wrote in a letter to the Soviet embassy in Washington DC, "Had I been able to reach the Soviet Embassy in Havana as planned, the embassy there would have had time to complete our business." [14] [15]

The rifle and Oswald’s marksmanship

File:Oswaldrifle.jpg
Lee Harvey Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, in the US National Archives

In March 1963 Oswald used his Fair Play for Cuba Committee alias Alex J. Hidell to purchase the rifle and handgun later linked by investigators to the November 22, 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy.

  • Rifle
6.5 x 52 mm Italian Mannlicher-Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle with a six-round magazine
Serial number C2766
Western Cartridge Co. ammunition with a 160 grain (10.37 g) round nose bullet
Side-mounted Ordnance Optics 4 x 18 telescopic sight
  • Handgun
.38 Special (9x29R) Smith & Wesson Victory revolver, 2.25 in (57 mm) barrel
Serial number V510210
Converted from .38 S&W (9x20R) the barrel shortened from five in (127 mm) barrel

Oswald kept the rifle wrapped in a blanket and hidden in the garage of the Paines' home, where Marina was living at the time (see Warren Commission report describing testimony of Michael R. Paine and his wife, Ruth Paine [16]). The Warren Commission concluded Oswald smuggled the rifle into the Texas School Book Depository the morning of the assassination in a long brown paper package which he told a co-worker contained "curtain rods."

During his Marine Corps service in December 1956 Oswald scored a rating of sharpshooter (twice achieving 48 and 49 out of 50 shots during rapid fire at a target 200 yards [183 m] away using a standard issue M1 Garand semiautomatic rifle). Although in May 1959 he qualified as a marksman (a lower classification) military experts examining his records characterized his firearms proficiency as "above average" and when compared to American civilian males his age, "an excellent shot." [17]

Skeptics have argued that expert marksmen could not duplicate Oswald's alleged feat in their first try during reenactments by the Warren Commission (1964) and CBS (1967). In those tests the marksmen were attempting to hit the target three times within 4.5 seconds, however, the use of this time span has been heavily disputed and modern analysis of a digitally enhanced Zapruder film has suggested the first and final shots may have come as much as 8.4 seconds apart. Moreover, many of CBS's 11 volunteer marksmen, who (unlike Oswald) had no prior experience with a Mannlicher-Carcano, were able to hit the test target three times in well under the time allotted.

The assassination of JFK

Main article: The Assassination of JFK

Through a neighbour of the Paines, Oswald found a temporary job (for the busy fall season) at the Texas School Book Depository. The 1964 Warren Commission report on the John F. Kennedy assassination concluded that at 12:30 pm on November 22 Oswald shot Kennedy from a window on the sixth floor of the warehouse as the President's motorcade passed through Dallas' Dealey Plaza (see lone gunman theory). Texas Governor John Connally was also seriously wounded along with assassination witness James Tague who received a very minor injury while standing some 270 feet (82 m) in front of the presidential limousine.

Critics of this account have asserted that photographic and film evidence along with witness statements throughout the years indicate there were at least one or two shooters in an area of Dealey Plaza known as the grassy knoll behind a picket fence atop a small sloping hill, which was to President Kennedy's right-front. A number of witnesses reported seeing a flash of light and/or a puff of smoke come from behind the fence along with hearing shots from that direction, although several historians have pointed out that a startled couple dropped a glass of Coca-Cola bottle which shattered in the immediate area at that moment. On the 8 mm Zapruder film it appears that President Kennedy's body was turned in a back and leftward direction after the shot. However, when the film is examined frame by frame, a sudden forward-motion of the president can be seen which is inconsistent with anything but a sudden stop of the limousine (which the film shows did not happen) or a shot from behind, as from the book depository. Two frames after the forward motion a second, more prolonged backward motion occurs. A large portion of brain matter was projected forward but blood and brain matter also landed behind the moving vehicle, hitting the windshield of one of the motorcycle escorts. Jackie Kennedy can be seen crawling onto the rear of the car to retrieve a piece of skull, which she later handed to Dr Marion Jenkins at Parkland Hospital. Skeptics claim this as evidence that the shot did not come from behind.

Oswald's flight and the murder of Officer J. D. Tippit

According to the Warren Commission report, immediately after he shot President Kennedy, Oswald hid the rifle behind some boxes and descended the Depository's rear staircase. On the second floor he encountered Dallas police officer Marion Baker who had driven his motorcycle to the door of the Depository and sprinted up the stairs in search of the shooter. With him was Oswald's supervisor Roy Truly, who identified Oswald as an employee which caused Baker, who had his pistol in hand, to let Oswald pass. Oswald bought a Coke from a vending machine in the second floor lunchroom, crossed the floor to the front staircase, descended and left the building through the front entrance on Elm Street.

At about 12:40 pm (CST) Oswald boarded a city bus by pounding on the door in the middle of a block but when heavy traffic had slowed the bus to a halt he requested a bus transfer from the driver. He took a taxicab a few blocks beyond his rooming house at 1026 N. Beckley St. then walked back there to retrieve his revolver and beige jacket at about 1:00 pm and moments later left the house. He lingered briefly at a bus stop across the street, then began walking. His ultimate destination is unknown but by the time he was stopped he had walked almost a mile (1.6 km) and was only four blocks away from a 1:40 pm city bus which could have connected him with a Greyhound bus headed south for Mexico.

Officer J. D. Tippit had very likely heard the general description of the alleged shooter (based on the statement of witness Howard Brennan who had seen Oswald in the window of the Depository from across the street) which was broadcast over the police radio at 12:45 pm. Thirty minutes later Tippit encountered Oswald near the corner of Patton Avenue and 10th Street and pulled up to talk to him through his patrol car window. Tippit got out of his car and Oswald fired several shots at the police officer with his .38 revolver, four of which hit Tippit, killing him instantly in view of several witnesses. [18] Oswald reloaded the revolver as he walked away, throwing empty shell casings into some bushes. At least a dozen people either witnessed the shooting or identified Oswald fleeing the scene. A cab driver hiding behind his taxi thought he may have heard Oswald mutter "Poor dumb cop" as he walked by, then broke into a run or a trot still holding the pistol in his hand. Moments later, Oswald dropped his jacket in a parking lot. Tippit's service revolver was found under his body, out of its holster.

A few minutes later Oswald ducked into the entrance alcove of a shoe store on Jefferson Street to avoid passing police cars, then sneaked into the nearby Texas Theater without paying (the film being shown was War Is Hell starring Audie Murphy). The shoe store's manager saw all of this, followed him and alerted the theater's ticket clerk, who phoned police. Once inside, Oswald changed seats several times. The police quickly arrived and poured into the theater as the lights were turned on. Officer M.N. McDonald approached Oswald sitting near the rear and ordered him to stand. Oswald punched McDonald and drew his revolver (some accounts say he pulled the trigger but the weapon misfired) and McDonald briefly struggled with Oswald before other officers subdued and arrested him at 1:50 pm. As he was led past an angry crowd who had gathered outside the theater, shouting for Oswald's death, he yelled back that he was a victim of police brutality.

Oswald was booked on suspicion first as a suspect in the shooting of Officer Tippit and shortly afterward on suspicion of assassinating Kennedy. By the end of the evening he had been arraigned for both murders. [19] Oswald's elder brother Robert visited Lee in jail and asked him quizzically, "Lee, what in the Sam Hill is going on?" to which Lee replied coldly with a straight face, "I don't know." Robert responded, "Look, the police have your pistol, they have your rifle and you've been charged with the shooting of the President and a police officer and you tell me you don't know?"

While in custody Oswald had an impromptu, face to face brush with reporters and photographers in the hallway of the police station (a situation which would not likely be allowed to happen in later years). A reporter asked him, "Did you shoot the President?" and Oswald answered, "I have not been accused of that. In fact, I didn't even know about it until you asked me that question." Later Oswald said to reporters, "I didn't shoot anyone" and "They're taking me in because of the fact that I lived in the Soviet Union. I'm only a patsy!"

Oswald's death

File:Ruby-shooting-oswald.jpg
Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, to whom Dallas detective Jim Leaville (to right of Ruby, wearing light hat) was handcuffed.

By the morning of Sunday, November 24 the Dallas police had already received many death threats directed towards Oswald and homicide detective Jim Leaville tried to convince police Captain J.W. "Will" Fritz to break his promise to reporters that they could photograph the suspected assassin as he was transferred to a nearby jail and instead sneak Oswald out of the crowded building at an earlier time. Fritz refused, although extensive precautions (including the decision to use an armored truck as a decoy) were taken to secure the area where Oswald would be briefly exposed to reporters and cameras. Leaville later recalled the conversation he had with Oswald as they rode down the elevator handcuffed together:

"I said, 'Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they're as good a shot as you are.' Meaning they'd hit him and not me. And he kind of laughed and he said, 'Ah, you're being melodramatic.' Or something like that. 'Nobody's going to shoot me.' I said, 'Well, if they do start, you know what to do, don't you?' He said, 'Well, Captain Fritz told me to follow you, and I'll do whatever you do." [20]

Moments later, at 11:21 am CST Oswald was shot and fatally wounded before live TV cameras in the basement of Dallas police headquarters by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner with many friends and acquaintances in the Dallas Police and the underworld. Millions watched the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the first time a homicide was captured and shown publicly on live television; however, it was carried live only on NBC, one of the three major networks in the US at that time.

The route Ruby took to get down into the basement of the Dallas jail has been disputed, although Ruby was very specific about having used the basement vehicle entrance ramp (along with his access to the jail on other days), as recorded during a polygraph test Ruby insisted on taking and documented in a Warren Report appendix. A former Dallas police officer named Napoleon Daniels also said he saw Ruby use the ramp. Skeptics speculate Ruby entered the basement from inside police headquarters. The use of a route through the jail building suggests to some that Ruby received help from authorities inside the building, but many journalists entered the building without having their credentials checked and Ruby can be seen on film inside the building on the previous Friday night, apparently posing as a reporter.

In preparations for his trial Ruby later stated he killed Oswald on the spur of the moment to spare Jacqueline Kennedy the stress and embarrassment a trial would cause her. During the trial his defense team suggested that Ruby's actions were related to an epileptic event brought on by the photographers camera flashbulbs and movie camera lights. However, immediately after his arrest Ruby had told Dallas policemen that the American people would view him "as a hero," that he had maintained Dallas's "good reputation" and/or that the murder was proof that "Jews have guts." His lawyer later said, "he never thought he'd spend a night in jail."

Oswald's grave is in Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park in Fort Worth. The November 25th burial and funeral were paid for by Oswald's brother Robert. There was no religious service and reporters acted as pallbearers. When his mother died in 1981 she was buried next to Oswald with no headstone. Originally his headstone read Lee Harvey Oswald, but this marker was stolen and replaced with one which only reads Oswald. His wife Marina, who was sequestered by federal agents the day after the assassination and later released, married Kenneth Porter in 1965 and her two daughters June and Rachel took Porter's last name.

Quote

I wonder what would happen if someone would stand up and say he was utterly opposed not only to the governments, but to the people, to the entire land and complete foundation of his society. - written on Holland-America Line stationery, likely in June 1962 when he was returning to the US [21]

Investigations

  • The Warren Commission created by President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 29, 1963 to investigate the assassination concluded that Oswald assassinated Kennedy and that he acted alone (also known as the Lone gunman theory). The proceedings of the commission were secret and about 3% of its files have yet to be released to the public which has continued to provoke speculation among skeptics.
  • In 1966 and 1967 New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison conducted an investigation which culminated in the trial and acquittal of Clay Shaw. This failed prosecution was the only charge ever brought for conspiracy in the murder of JFK.
  • A later investigation by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, during the late 1970s, concluded that President Kennedy "most-likely was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy," but this finding was based on studies of dictabelt audio recordings which were later heavily criticised by scientists and audio specialists.

The 1981 exhumation

In October 1981 Oswald's body was the subject of an exhumation undertaken by British writer Michael Eddowes, with Marina Oswald Porter's support. They sought to prove or disprove a thesis developed in a 1975 book, Khrushchev Killed Kennedy (republished in 1976 in Britain as November 22: How They Killed Kennedy and in America a year later as The Oswald File).

The thesis of the trio of books was that when Oswald went to the Soviet Union, he was swapped with a Soviet double. Eddowes made public the results of his investigation, saying it was the most terrifying story imaginable. He claimed that the man who killed Kennedy was not Oswald but another whose first name was Alec, a member of a KGB assassination squad. Eddowes mentioned a number of purported discrepancies. He said there were eleven separate records of Lee Harvey Oswald's height indicatting he was 5'11", yet the autopsy doctors had recorded the length of the man Jack Ruby killed in the Dallas jail as 5'9". The autopsy doctors recorded two scars on the cadaver's arm while the real Oswald had three. The pathologists recorded a deep scar on the inner aspect of the wrist and Eddowes asserted the real Oswald had no such scar. At age six Lee Harvey Oswald had an operation on the mastoid bone of one of his ears. Part of the bone was removed resulting in a depression in the flesh and a dime-sized hole in the skull. Oswald's records in the Marine Corps report this defect. Eddowes said that when the doctors cut over both mastoid bones to take off the skull to examine the brain during the autopsy they reported no such depression or hole in the skull.

Although when Oswald's body was exhumed it was found that the coffin had ruptured and filled with water, leaving the body in an advanced state of decomposition with partial skeletalization, the exhumation procedure identified the corpse as Oswald's through examinations based on dental records.

Oswald in fiction

One of Oswald's Marine Corps comrades, Kerry Thornley, shortly after learning of Oswald's October 1959 departure for the USSR, began writing a novel titled The Idle Warriors; its protagonist of Johnny Shellburne (a disillusioned Marine stationed in Japan who defects to the Soviet Union) being significantly inspired by Oswald's character and actions. The Idle Warriors is currently the only known literary work about Lee Oswald completed before the JFK assassination. Although an unpublished copy of Thornley's completed manuscript had been given to the Warren Commission in 1964 and was later stored in the National Archives, The Idle Warriors was not formally published until 1991.

Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman present another interpretation of the events in their musical Assassins. In the play Oswald goes to work on November 22 with the intention of killing himself, but John Wilkes Booth (Abraham Lincoln's assassin) appears out of the bookcases. Other assassins follow and convince Oswald that the way to gain his fame and appreciation is to shoot Kennedy instead of himself.

He has also been portrayed in various novels, such as Libra by Don DeLillo and The Two Faces of Lee Harvey Oswald by Glenn B. Fleming.

Another novel featuring Oswald and speculation on the Grassy Knoll theory is 1975's The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

In the 1973 movie Executive Action, actual archival footage of Oswald is used, while an Oswald "double" in the film is played by James Mac Coll.

In the 1977 movie "The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald" John Pleshette plays Oswald in a fictional dramatization of the trial that never happened.

In the British comedy series Red Dwarf, Oswald is disturbed by the arrival of the Red Dwarf crew. Forced to choose another location, Oswald's shot goes wide, and history is changed. Having seen the dystopic future their actions have caused, the crew recruit an alternative John F. Kennedy from the future to shoot "himself" from behind the Grassy Knoll. The character Lister claims that not only will these actions restore the original timeline, but they will also "drive the conspiracy theorists crazy".

In the 5th season of the show Quantum Leap, the character of Sam Beckett 'leaps' into the body of Oswald, days before he's supposed to shoot Kennedy. In fact, the leap 'into' Oswald was while he was posing for the photo of himself holding a rifle, taken by his wife.

In Woody Allen's 1977 film Annie Hall, Woody's character of Alvy Singer obsesses over the JFK assassination, unable to believe the Warren Commission's conclusion that Oswald acted alone. His wife Allison (Carol Kane), accuses him of using his 'conspiracy theory' as "an excuse to avoid sex with me". As it happens, they're both right.

In Ken Grimwood's novel Replay, the protagonist, upon finding himself reliving the month of November 1963, travels to Dallas and sends death threats to Kennedy, signed with Oswald's name, from Oswald's local post office. Oswald is arrested soon after; to the protagonist's surprise, Kennedy is still assassinated on the 22nd.

In a 4th season episode of the fictional show X-Files, it is revealed that the Cigarette Smoking Man, then an Army Captain, killed Kennedy by shooting him from a storm drain as the President's motorcade was passing by. CSM was secretly ordered to do so by a vindictive army General who felt Kennedy had bungled the Bay of Pigs invasion by withholding air support for the invading fleet. CSM also arranged the situation in such a way as to frame Oswald.

See also

Further reading

  • Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale, Random House (1996), hardcover, ISBN 0517169428
  • Michael Eddowes, Khrushchev Killed Kennedy, self-published, (1975), paperback (republished as Nov. 22, How They Killed Kennedy, Neville Spearman (1976), hardback, ISBN 0859780198 and as The Oswald File, Potter (1977), hardcover, ISBN 0517530554)
  • Jim Marrs, Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, Carroll & Graf Publishers, NYC, 1990, ISBN: 0881846481
  • Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, Random House (1993), hardcover, ISBN 0679418253
  • Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, Who killed president Kennedy, Fontana (1980),
  • Matthew Smith, JFK: Say Goodbye to America, Mainstream Publishing (2004)

External links

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