Lee Harvey Oswald
"I'm just a patsy.”--spoken at a press conference at Dallas Police headquarters the night of his arrest, November 22, 1963, as a suspect in the assassination of President Kennedy. "Don't believe the so-called evidence."--spoken to his brother Robert from jail the morning of November 23, 1963, about the case being built against him.
Best known for: A large majority of people in the U.S. and worldwide have always accepted the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was falsely accused of being the lone assassin of John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the United States. Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed a presidential fact-finding commission, known as the Warren Commission after its figurehead leader, Chief Justice Earl Warren. The Commission's politically expedient conclusion was that none of the evidence of conspiracy they examined was "credible." The Commissioners and their staff of attorneys focused instead on weak, contradictory evidence to support a theory that Oswald alone fired three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building in downtown Dallas, using a World War II-vintage, Italian military carbine called a Mannlicher-Carcano, to kill Kennedy and wound both Texas Governor John B. Connally and bystander James T. Tague. All three victims were on the street below. Kennedy and Connally were in an open convertible limousine as part of a motorcade, and Tague was on foot in the crowd who came to see them ride by.
Because only three fired bullets were accounted for, and because Connally was hit at least once, Kennedy at least twice, and Tague was the third victim of a bullet that missed both Kennedy and Connally, the Commission was forced to either admit to the conspiracy, or go along with a bizarre, never-proven "single bullet" theory contrived by Commission Counsel -- later Pennsylvania senator -- Arlen Spector. There are actually several conflicting single bullet theories, a good reason among many to reject them. Rejecting them means there was more than one shooter. It also means there are problems with the ballistics evidence. In 1993, former Warren Commission Assistant Counsel Burt W. Griffin stated that rejecting the single bullet theory (a belief that one bullet caused seven wounds in two men despite its timing, flight path, points of entry and exit, and resulting condition) requires the assumption that ballistics evidence went undiscovered or was suppressed. Griffin, now Judge Griffin, is correct. He also admitted that he and other Warren Commission staff members did not believe that the Dallas Police, the FBI, the Secret Service, or the CIA, did a thorough job in investigating the crime. A small minority of conspiracy deniers continue, however, to cling to these odd single-bullet theories and fuel a bias for them in the news media.
From the beginning, there was never any reason to deny the conspiracy. Four of the seven Warren Commissioners -- the majority -- including Chairman Warren, expressed doubts about the Commission's conclusions within a decade of their report. In 1964, the New York Times quoted Warren's only public statement of doubt: that full disclosure was not possible for reasons of national security (Warren's statement was originally made to Dallas Morning News reporter Clint Richmond at Love Field the day Warren was in Dallas to interview Jack Ruby). But in 1976 the extent of Warren's private doubt became publicly known. It had been confirmed in January 1967, when columnist Drew Pearson told Warren about a conspiratorial lead involving CIA-Mafia assassination plots. Rather than stand by the Commission's conclusions, Warren referred the information to Secret Service Director James J. Rowley, who testified that Warren "...said he thought this was serious enough...and that the Warren Commission was finished, and he wanted the thing pursued, I suppose, by ourselves or the FBI." They were joined by a fifth Commissioner in 1978, when John J. McCloy told the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), that "I no longer feel we had no credible evidence or reliable evidence in regard to a conspiracy...."
Lyndon Johnson never believed the report he commissioned. The official policy of the FBI has long been that the case is not closed, a policy begun by J. Edgar Hoover himself. As late as 1998, the FBI was examining a newly identified fingerprint left over from the sixth-floor crime scene. Private investigators and fingerprint experts had positively matched the latent print to a convicted Texas killer named Malcolm Everett Wallace before turning it over to the Dallas Police and FBI in May 1998. The FBI crime lab, which was under severe scrutiny for numerous past failures, seemingly botched its verification of the match after taking nearly a year to do something its experts and computers do hundreds of times a day. The FBI's handling of the matter has been appealed, adding it to a long list of poorly handled cases which are under review.
As late as January 2000, the FBI released a report on new tests of bullet fragments. The fragments were originally identified as having come from Kennedy's fatal head wound. The request for testing came in 1996 from President Clinton's Assassination Records Review Board. The ARRB was established because of public demand for the disclosure of all JFK assassination records, following Oliver Stone's 1991 movie "JFK." The tests were not begun until September 1998, and not completed until the fall of 1999, although the FBI does such tests many times a day. The same tests had been requested by Congress nineteen years earlier. But that request was ignored completely. The tests were intended to identify two types of material adhering to the fragments: white fibrous material, and human remains. The fibers were identified as paper, which could not have come from Kennedy's head. This finding alone cast further doubt on the fragments' provenance.
The FBI claimed the human remains on the fragments could not be more specifically identified, and claimed that this inconclusive result ruled out doing DNA matching to vereify the bullet's alleged flight path. Indeed. The test was for mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on specifically from mother to daughter, not more generally from parent to child. Such a test would have to be inconclusive. None of these results supported the Warren Commission's false conclusions about Oswald's guilt. Nonetheless, the news media, in their attempt to report the findings, confused, omitted or distored these basic facts. The resulting news stories showed a continued media bias in support of the long-discredited single-bullet theories.
Born: October 18, 1939, in New Orleans, Louisiana, two months after his father's death. His mother moved the family to Benbook, Texas, a suburb of Forth Worth in June 1948, after her divorce from her third husband, Edwin A. Ekdahl. Oswald left and returned to Texas several times during the rest of his life.
Death: Oswald was shot to death in the basement of Dallas Police headquarters while being transferred to the Dallas County Jail on November 24, 1963, by Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner with significant political, police and organized crime connections. As a result, Oswald was denied his Constitutional right to a trial, which would have allowed him to defend himself against the murder charges and expose the conspirators. Oswald's body was ordered exhumed in 1981 after author Michael Eddowes brought suit in Texas to determine who was actually buried in Oswald's grave. The pathologists assigned to the case officially identified the body as Oswald's. However, the funeral director who originally buried the body insisted it could not be the same since the one he buried clearly showed a craniotomy, which had been done during autopsy, and the exhumed skull showed no craniotomy. Also, the pathologists used dental records to identify the corps, but ignored the fact that Oswald had lost a front tooth in a fight in high school (there is a photo of him in class with a gap-tooth smile, and many classmates remember the fight and the missing tooth). The exhumed skull had a full set of natural front teeth.
Family: Father: Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Sr.; Mother: Marguerite Claverie Oswald; Brothers: John Edward Pic (half brother - born 1931), Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Jr.; Wife: Marina (Nikolayevna Prusakova) Oswald; Children: June Lee Oswald (born Feb. 15, 1961), Audrey Marina Rachel Oswald (born Oct. 20, 1963).
Education: Left high school at age 17 to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
Career: CIA connections: As a boy, Lee's favorite television show was "I Led Three Lives," a 1953 series based on the true-life exploits of Herbert Philbrick, an FBI agent who worked undercover as a communist sympathizer infiltrating communist cells and suspected subversive groups. In New Orleans during the summer of 1955, Lee attended meetings of the Civil Air Patrol. His commander was David Ferrie, who was later found by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison to have extensive conspiratorial ties to the assassination. The Civil Air Patrol was co-founded by wealthy Dallas oilman David Harold Byrd. At the time of the assassination, Byrd had been the sole owner of the Texas School Book Depository building since the 1930s. (The Texas Theater, in which Oswald was arrested, was built in the 1930s by billionaire Texan and CIA contractor Howard Hughes. The closeness of these men to the CIA makes it all but certain that their properties would become clandestinely used by spies. The use of movie theaters for secret rendezvous had long been a staple of espionage tradecraft, and other Hughes properties were put to similar use.)
Both of Oswald's brothers were in the military. John was in the Coast Guard and Robert was in the Marines. Lee tried and failed to join the Marines at age 16, before he was old enough. He spent the next year memorizing the Marine manual. As a teenager, with his mother's help, Lee's super-patriotism and wish for a secret government identity of some sort may have found a use. Accounts of co-workers, other eyewitnesses, and records from schools, employment and the military began to conflict greatly on such details as his appearance, whereabouts and abilities in such areas as driving and foreign languages. From the time he was a young teen it was as if his identity was being used by several people at once. While no specific official program or operation has been publicly documented involving the requisition of identities, similar activities have long been common in spy tradecraft. Certainly by 1963, one or more persons was actively impersonating Oswald in ways that helped incriminate him in the Kennedy assassination.
Oswald enlisted in the Marines on October 24, 1956, six days after his 17th birthday. In bootcamp, Lee was soon ridiculed for his bad marksmanship. His fellow Marines also nicknamed him "Oswaldkovitch" because of his open, apparent support of communism. That did not prevent the Marine Corps, however, from giving this unusual 17-year-old soldier radar training, security clearance and an assignment at Atsugi Air Base in Japan, the CIA's main station of operation in the Far East. The base was home to top secret U2 aerial surveillance spy missions over Russia. Although he was court-martialed twice in 1957, once for unauthorized possession of a pistol and once for pouring a drink on a sergeant, his "punishment" was minor and allowed him to be separated from his normal duties for a total of 48 days. On February 25, 1959, Oswald was given a Russian language test by the Marines. Seven months later, he was on his way to "defect" to the Soviet Union after several strange circumstances resulted in his rapidly obtaining a passport, discharge, unscheduled flights and visa. After AP and UPI wire service news stories appeared about her son's "defection," Lee's mother became convinced that he was working undercover as a U.S. agent.
The KGB also suspected Oswald of being a false defector sent to spy for the U.S. The U.S. secretly had such a spy program at the time. The Soviets played along by encouraging Lee to stay. He was given a rent-free apartment and an unusually well-paid position at a Radio and TV factory. But he was under surveillance the whole time. Even the women he dated were government agents and informants. Some U.S. spies unknowingly married Soviet spies and brought them to the U.S. (this was a scenario presented in the 1957 John Wayne movie, "Jet Pilot.") In the spring of 1961, Oswald met and married 19-year-old Marina Nikolayevna Prusakova. At the time, Marina was living with her uncle and aunt. Her uncle was a top official in the Minsk MVD, the Russian equivalent of the FBI. In June 1962, despite his earlier threat to a U.S. embassy official that he might give the Russians U.S. military secrets, and his marriage to a Soviet citizen, Oswald was allowed by both governments to easily return to the U.S. with Marina and their new daughter, June Lee.
Back in Fort Worth, Lee's family noticed radical changes in his appearance, such as a great loss and thinning of his hair, adding to the mysteries surrounding Lee's identity since he was a teenager. A comparison of his height on his Defense Department ID card (5'11") with his height at the time of his arrest (5'9") supports his family's claims. Oswald's apparent pro-communist activism also fragmented into seemingly conflicting camps. He wrote friendly letters to, and subscribed to publications from communist organizations with opposite, mutually hated loyalties to former Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. His and Marina's local friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, however, were right-wing, anti-communist, pro-Nazi Russian exiles who held extreme hatred for Stalinists, Trotskyists and all other communists. A disproportionate number of these anti-communist friends of the Oswalds were in the oil exploration business in Dallas. Lee's behavior and relationships were highly unusual for anyone except undercover infiltrators of such groups, like Lee's childhood hero, Herbert Philbrick.
Oswald's spy behavior and odd relationships continued through the rest of 1962, and rapidly increased throughout 1963. Using the alias 'Alek Hidell,' a name that would easily be linked to him, or used by someone else to incriminate him, Oswald allegedly ordered two guns through the mail. A revolver was ordered on January 27, and the old bolt-action carbine was ordered on March 12. Oddly, both arrived at this post office box in Dallas on March 20. He would later be accused of using both of them on November 22, one to kill Kennedy and another to murder Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit.
Leaving Marina behind in Dallas living with a woman who has extensive family connections to the CIA, Lee went to New Orleans in late April supposedly in search of work. There, Oswald added to his strange relationships four coworkers at a coffee company who all quit around the same time he did and went to work for NASA. He also added two more warring camps to his associations: pro-Castro and anti-Castro Cubans. While forming and promoting a pro-Castro group, the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), Oswald was often seen in friendly company with his former Civil Air Patrol commander, David Ferrie. They were both seen with private detective Guy Bannister at Bannister's office in the heart of the U.S. intelligence community in New Orleans. Both Ferrie and Bannister, a former FBI agent, were rabidly anti-communist and anti-Castro.
In 1963, as head of the Senate's Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee, Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut was experimenting with ordering arms from mail order houses in an attempt to gather information allowing Congress to stem unregulated traffic. Senator Dodd instituted the program on behalf of Colt and other small firearms producers in Connecticut who complained of foreign imports. Oswald might have participated in this program. Dodd, a former FBI agent and long-time J. Edgar Hoover loyalist, was also a leading member of the Cuba Lobby (which grew out of the right-wing, red-hunting, China Lobby) through which he was in touch with some of the same Cuban-exile mercenaries as Oswald. He was also investigating the FPCC in which Oswald may have been an infiltrator.
According to a standard textbook by criminologist Charles O'Hara, we can see how Oswald, working in a legitimate undercover capacity for Dodd, could have easily been manipulated into simultaneous conspiracies involving a Mannlicher-Carcano: "In the investigation of subversive activities and systematic thefts undercover operations are almost indispensable. / Undercover work is most successfully used when there is knowledge that certain persons are engaged in criminal activity, but proof which may be used as evidence is lacking...The effective undercover agent is, perhaps, the only means of obtaining detailed information concerning a subversive group or organization."
Two of the gun mail-order houses Dodd's subcommittee was investigating were the ones from which Oswald allegedly ordered his Smith and Wesson .38 revolver (Seaport Traders of Los Angeles) and his Mannlicher-Carcano carbine (Klein's of Chicago). Oswald ordered his pistol two days before Dodd's subcommittee began hearings on the matter on January 29, 1963. The subcommittee's sample statistics later showed a purchase in Texas made from Seaport Traders. One of the groups being investigated for firearm purchases was one whose members Oswald had in his address book, the American Nazi Party. One of the investigators looking into interstate firearms sales at this time was Manuel Pena, the Los Angeles police lieutenant who was later one of the pivotal officers investigating Robert Kennedy's assassination. It was Pena who traced Oswald's telescopic sight to a California gun shop. And one of the primary culprits, robbing domestic manufacturers of profits, was the Mannlicher-Carcano.
On the day Kennedy was assassinated, Dodd considered the tragedy a personal victory, bragging about his friendship with the "new" administration, grieving only over "the damage he [Kennedy] did to us in three years." But we still await author George Michael Evica's proof that, "Beyond speculation...I have learned that according to two unimpeachable sources, Senator Thomas Dodd indeed caused at least one Mannlicher Carcano to be ordered in the name of Lee Harvey Oswald (or in the name of 'Alek Hidell') sometime in 1963."
After the assassination, Dodd, using CIA sources, helped the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee publish a story that Oswald had been trained at a KGB assassination school in Minsk. At the time, Dodd was on the payroll of the American Security Council, "the leading public group campaigning to use U.S. military force to oust Castro from Cuba, and to escalate the war in Vietnam."
Sources and Notes:
Oswald: Michael Benson, Who's Who in the JFK Assassination (New York: Citadel Press, 1993), pp. 124, 329-352; Paul Brancato, “Coup D'etat” illustrated card set (Forestville, California: Eclipse Enterprises, 1989), pp. 1, 7, 10.
Public doubt: Paul B. Sheatsley and Jacob J. Feldman, The Kennedy Assassination and the American Public, National Opinion Research Center, Stanford University Press, 1965 (large majority). For sources of public opinion for the period Nov. 1963 through Feb. 1977, see: "Studies of Public Reactions," items 1673-1714, DeLloyd J. Guth and David R. Wrone, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: A Comprehensive Historical and Legal Bibliography, 1963-1979 [Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1980] pp. 174-177; hereafter cited as Guth and Wrone 174-177. On Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, soon after Oswald had been shot, Gordon McClendon, owner of Dallas radio station KLIF, reported the following from Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, where 40,000 spectators were attending the Dallas Cowboys-Cleveland Browns football game: "People seem to think that the Dallas Police Department really had the wrong man, or that Oswald was being held for want of a better suspect...No one here that we've talked to -- taxi drivers, hotel employees, the various people we've had an opportunity to be around since we arrived here yesterday afternoon -- no one really thought that Oswald was the guilty party." ("The Fateful Hours: a Presentation of KLIF News in Dallas," Capitol Records, 1964; reissued on audiotape by KLIF, 1993.) For sources of public opinion just before and after the release of the Stone film, see: Kenneth Auchincloss, "Twisted History," Newsweek Dec. 23, 1991, p. 46, and Ted Gest and Joseph Shapiro, "JFK: The Untold Story of the Warren Commission," U.S. News & World Report Aug. 17, 1992, p. 29.
No "credible" evidence: Warren Commission Report (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964) p. 374; hereafter cited as R 374.
Official doubt: Chairman Warren: William M. Blair, "Warren Commission Will Ask Mrs. Oswald to Identify Rifle Used in the Kennedy Assassination," New York Times Feb. 5, 1964, p. 19; Richard Bartholomew discussion with Clint Richmond, Mar. 5, 1997; Commissioners Russell, Cooper and Boggs: Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, The Investigation of the Assassination of President Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies [Senate Report 94-755, 94th Cong., 2nd sess., 1976, Final Report, Book V] p. 80; cited in Bernard Fensterwald, Coincidence or Conspiracy (New York: Zebra Books, 1977) pp. 74-75 (hereafter cited as Fensterwald 74-75); Edward Jay Epstein, Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth (New York: Viking, Jun. 1966) pp. 149-50, (Bantam, Oct. 1966) p. 122; see also Fensterwald 86, 91, 96, 99; Commissioner McCloy: Hearings Before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, vol. XI (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979) note 11 at p. 14; hereafter cited as 11 HH 14 n.11; see also Fensterwald 86; Griffin statements: Charles J. Sanders and Mark S. Zaid, "The Declassification of Dealey Plaza: After Thirty Years, A New Disclosure Law At Last May Help To Clarify the Facts of the Kennedy Assassination," South Texas Law Review, Vol. 34:407, Oct. 1993; later published in "The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992" (ARCA), The Fourth Decade, Special Edition, 1994, pp. 411-12 n.8; hereafter cited as Sanders and Zaid 411-12 n.8; President Johnson: Walter Cronkite interview, CBS News, broadcast on Apr. 25, 1975 (President Johnson's doubt); see also Fensterwald 76, 124; FBI policy: Warren Commission Hearings and Evidence (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964, v. V) p. 99 ; cited hereafter as 5H 99 (Hoover's policy); see also Sanders and Zaid, p. 412 n.11.
Evidence problems: Robert Sam Anson, "They've Killed the President!" (New York: Bantam, 1975) p. 356; hereafter cited as Anson 356; Peter Dale Scott, Deep Politics (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1993) pp. 58, 60-61, 69; hereafter cited as Scott 58, 60-61, 69; Walter F. Graf and Richard R. Bartholomew, “The Gun that Didn't Smoke” (Fair Play Magazine, Issue 19, November-December 1997); Karen Gullo, "No JFK Shirt Material on Bullets," Associated Press, January 21, 2000, (AP-NY-01-21-00 1120EST, http://www.wire.ap.org/); Joe Backes, "Backes responds to NARA's blundered test report, and Gullo's AP piece" (self published critiqe, January 21, 2000, 19:32:42 EST); "Charles E. O'Hara, Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation (Springfield, Ill.: Thomas Books, 1956, 1970, 2nd ed., 2nd printing) pp. 5-6, 30, 67, 69, 80, 197, 199, 438, 450, 493, 562, 575, 681, 684-85, 687; hereafter cited as O'Hara with page number(s). As if speaking to the crime-scene investigators of the JFK assassination, O'Hara wrote the following in a brief preface to his second edition: "On review, however, it would appear that insufficient attention had been given to the role of the investigator in establishing the innocence of persons falsely accused. It was thought that this aspect of investigation was too obvious to stress; that the continued insistence on objectivity and professionalism in the investigator's conduct should meet this requirement. After all, the process of establishing innocence is hardly separable from the task of detecting the guilty. One does not, that is to say, prove guilt by the method of exhaustion." (O'Hara vii)
Two Oswalds: John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee," A lecture by John Amstrong, including text and documents; Introduction by Jim Hargrove (Self published, 1998) 100 pgs.; Deb Riechmann, "Tape: Call on JFK wasn't Oswald," Associated Press, Nov. 21, 1999, 1246EST; Joe Nick Patoski, "The Two Oswalds," Texas Monthly magazine, November 1998, pp. 135, 160.
Conflicting single bullet theories: Warren Commission: Sanders and Zaid 410-12 n.8; House Committee: Guth and Wrone xxvii-xxx; American Bar Association: Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993) p. 317, 326,-35, 474, 477, 478-79; hereafter cited as Posner with page number(s) (Posner's theory is taken from the American Bar Association Mock Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald prosecution single bullet theory. It was presented uncritically and without credit to A.B.A. by Posner).
CIA - oil industry connections: Darwin Payne, “Initiative in Energy: Dresser Industries, Inc. 1880-1978” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), Appendix C; David G. Armstrong, “Where Was George?,” Austin Chronicle, February 28, 1992, pp. 20-22; Richard Bartholomew, “Possible Discovery of an Automobile Used in the JFK Conspiracy” (self-published manuscript, 1993, p. 63; Fair Play Magazine, Issue 17, July-August 1997).
Malcolm Wallace Fingerprint: John Kelin, "JFK Breakthrough?", (Fair Play Magazine, Issue 23, July-August 1998); "A. Nathan Darby's Affidavit" (Fair Play Magazine, Issue 24, September-October, 1998); Barr McClellan, "Mac Wallace Update: Statement Regarding Print Evidence" (Fair Play Magazine, Issue 28, May-June 1999).
DNA problem: Debbi Craig (e-mail to Joe Backes, February 4, 2000).