Trouble from the Start
On October 18, 1939, Lee Harvey Oswald is born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Marguerite and Robert Oswald, Sr., and that’s when the trouble started. His father dies of a heart attack two months before Lee is born, leaving Marguerite alone to care for Lee and his older brother, Robert, Jr., and half-brother Edward John Pic.
In 1944, the Oswalds move from New Orleans to Dallas, Texas. Lee enters the first grade in 1945, and over the next half-dozen years attends several different schools in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas through the sixth grade. Lee takes an IQ test in the fourth grade and scores 103. On his achievement tests in grades 4 to 6, he does best in reading and worst in spelling. He is described as withdrawn and temperamental.
When Lee is 12, he and his mother move to New York City where they live for a short time with Lee’s half-brother, John. Their stay is cut short after an argument in which Lee hits his mother and threatens John’s wife with a pocket knife, at which time John makes them leave.
Lee attends seventh grade in the Bronx, New York, but is often truant, which leads to a psychiatric assessment at a juvenile reformatory. The psychiatrist describes Oswald as being immersed in a “vivid fantasy life.” The psychiatrist detects a “schizoid personality pattern with passive-aggressive tendencies” and recommends continued treatment.
His mother works long shifts, and Lee is often left to fend for himself, spending time at the library while developing a habit of playing hooky. He is eventually picked up and placed in a detention hall where his social worker describes him as emotionally detached, giving off “the feeling of a kid nobody gave a darn about.”
In January 1954, Marguerite and Lee return to New Orleans. At the time, there is a question pending before a New York judge as to whether Lee should be removed from the care of his mother to finish his schooling, even though his behavior appears to be improving. Although he has trouble spelling, he is a voracious reader. By age 15, he considers himself a Marxist. At 16, he writes to the Socialist Party of America for information on their Young People’s Socialist League. Lee completes the eighth and ninth grades in New Orleans. He enters the 10th grade in 1955 but quits school after one month. After leaving school, Lee works for several months as an office clerk and messenger in New Orleans.
Lee Meets David Ferrie
Lee also begins attending meetings of the Civil Air Patrol in New Orleans. Fellow cadet members, (among them, Barry Seal, who would later become a notorious drug smuggler) recall Lee only attending three or four meetings. The leader of the C.A.P. in New Orleans is David Ferrie.
In July 1956, Marguerite moves the family again, this time, back to Fort Worth. Lee re-enrolls in the 10th grade for the September session at Arlington Heights High School but only stays for a few weeks. In October, 1956, Lee quits school and joins the Marines. He never earns a high school diploma. At this point in his young life, Lee has lived at 22 locations and attended 12 different schools.
Lee Oswald enlists in the United States Marine Corps on October 24, 1956, just after his 17th birthday. Since he’s underage, his brother Robert, Jr., has to sign the forms as his legal guardian. He names Robert, his mother and his half-brother, John, as beneficiaries. Lee idolizes his older brother, Robert Jr., who earlier had been a Marine. Lee wears his brother’s Marine Corps ring. John Pic (Oswald’s half-brother) later testifies to the Warren Commission that Lee’s enlistment was motivated by wanting to get from out from under the yoke of oppression of his mother.
Lee receives boot camp training in San Diego, California. He takes a series of aptitude tests in which he scores 2 points below average overall. On the rifle range, he scores a 212 (Sharpshooter) on his marksmanship test. On January 18, 1957, Lee is transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, for advanced infantry training. He is assigned to “A” Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment.
After a brief stint at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Jacksonville, Florida, where he is promoted to Private 1st Class, Lee is assigned to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Lee receives training as a radar operator, which requires a security clearance. In May 1957, he is cleared to handle classified matter up to and including “confidential,” the lowest level security clearance in the military. Lee finishes seventh in a class of thirty in the Aircraft Control and Warning Operator Course, which includes instruction in aircraft surveillance and the use of radar. On the firing range, Lee scores 191, which lowers his rating to marksman.
After training, he is assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 1, Marine Air Group 11, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi near Tokyo, Japan, where U2 spy planes are based. On July 9, 1957, Lee reports to the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, California, and is attached to the 4th Replacement Battalion until August 22, 1957, when he ships out for Japan. He arrives at Yokosuka, Japan, on September, 12, 1957. While in Yokosuka, Lee accidentally shoots himself in the arm with a derringer on October 27, 1957. He is sent to a military hospital in where he stays until November 15.
Lee’s unit does not arrive in Atsugi until March 18, 1958. While conducting a routine barracks inspection, a sergeant discovers an illegal .22 pistol in Oswald’s possession. The sergeant puts Oswald on report, and on April 11, 1958, Oswald is court martialed. He is found guilty of illegal possession of a firearm and has to forfeit two-weeks of pay. Oswald carries a grudge, and a few weeks later, starts a fight with the sergeant who reported his infraction. In defending himself, the sergeant beats the crap out of Oswald. On top of that, the fight gets Lee court-martialed a second time. At his court martial on June 27, 1958, he is demoted from private first class to private and sentenced to time in the brig. He is released from the brig on August 13.
On September 14, 1958, Oswald’s unit ships out for the Philippines where he is punished for a third incident. While on night-time sentry duty, he fires his weapon without cause and receives an official reprimand. Late in September, his unit goes to Taiwan, where he suffers a nervous breakdown. He is sent back to Atsugi, Japan, and put on general duty. Lee is the consummate “screw-up” who’s always getting in trouble. He’s called “Oswaldskovich” because he constantly espouses pro-Russian sentiments. He tries to teach himself rudimentary Russian without much success. He gets the nickname Ozzie Rabbit after a cartoon character because of his small, skinny build. He has few if any friends. On November 2, 1958, Lee is shipped back to the United States and is assigned to MACS-9 in El Toro, California. In January, 1959, he is given his semi-annual ratings, which are average. In February, 1959, he takes a Marine proficiency exam in written and spoken Russian and scores poorly. On September 11, 1959, Lee receives a hardship discharge from active service, claiming his mother needs care and assigned to the Marine Corps Reserves. But he never reports for reserve duty. Instead, he heads for Russia. The Marines say, “Good riddance.”
Lee Goes to Russia
Oswald leaves for the Soviet Union in October, 1959. He had taught himself enough Russian to get by and had about $1,500 that he’d saved while in the Marines (equivalent to $10,500 in 2019). Oswald spends two days with his mother in Fort Worth, then embarks by ship on September 20 from New Orleans to Le Havre, France. From there, he travels to the United Kingdom. He arrives in Southampton, U.K., on October 9, 1959, and on the same day, flies to Helsinki, Finland, where he is issued a Soviet visa on October 14. Oswald leaves Helsinki by train the following day, crosses the Soviet border at Vainikkala, and arrives in Moscow on October 16. His visa is valid for only one week.
He registers at the Hotel Berlin and meets his Intourist guide, Rima Shirokova. The next day, Rima meets LHO for some sightseeing. He tells her that he wants to become a Soviet citizen. When asked why, he tells her that he’s a communist and extols the virtues of the “great Soviet Union.”
Rima returns the next day. It’s October 18, Lee’s 20th birthday. Rima gives him a gift: a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Apparently, Rima is very astute.
Rima informs her superiors of Oswald’s statements about defecting to the Soviet Union. On October 19, Lee is interviewed by Lev Setyayev and reports his findings to the KGB. In his opinion, Oswald has nothing worthwhile to offer and recommends that he not be allowed to stay.
The next day, Lee goes to the Visa and Passport Department to make a formal application to try to extend his visa.
On October 21, the day his visa is due to expire, Rima informs him that his citizenship application has been refused and that he has to leave the Soviet Union that evening. Distraught, Oswald makes a lame attempt to commit suicide in his hotel room bathtub just before Rima is due to escort him from the country. She finds him in the bathtub with slash wounds to his wrist. He is taken to a Moscow hospital and placed in the psychiatric ward where he is kept under observation for several days.
Rima comes to visit Lee a number of times during his stay in the hospital. He complains about the food. On October 23, he is transferred from the psychiatric ward to a regular area of the hospital.
On October 27, the stitches are removed from his wrists. The next day, he is released from the hospital. Rima helps him move from the Berlin Hotel to the Hotel Metropole, one of the finest hotels in Moscow. Later that day, Rima escorts Lee to a meeting at the Passport and Registration Office, where he requests Soviet citizenship. They tell him to wait while they decide what to do with him.
Lee Meets Pilar
Lee is okay with that. He has first-class accommodations at the Metropole, and the Russian government is picking up the tab. On October 29, while Lee is standing in front of the hotel waiting for a bus, he meets a beautiful young Cuban woman named Pilar Rivera who is in the country being trained by the KGB. Pilar is on her way to language school near the Passport Office, and they sit together on the bus. Lee tries to talk to Pilar in Russian, but she has difficulty understanding him, since she is just learning the language and Lee doesn’t speak it well, himself. He is mesmerized by her beauty. She finds him pleasant enough, but has no interest in wasting her time with him. He invites her to have dinner with him, but she refuses. From then on, she goes out of her way to avoid him.
Lee can’t get Pilar out of his mind, this beautiful young communist who fought in a revolution to free people from the yoke of their capitalist oppressors. Perhaps this is where Lee gets the romantic vision of the Cuban revolution that will later inspire him to take up the cause while he is living in New Orleans.
Lee Tries to Defect
On October 31, 1959, Oswald goes to the U.S. embassy in Moscow and says he wants to renounce his U.S. citizenship. He describes it in his own words: 12:30 arrive in “Bolga” type taxi, two Russian policemen stand at the embassy, one salutes as I approach the entrance of the embassy and says “passport.” I smile and show my passport. He motions me to pass inside as I wish. There can be little doubt I’m sure in his mind that I’m an American. . . . Entering, I find the office of “consular” sign. Opening the door I go in. A secretary busy typing looks up. “Yes?” she says. “I’d like to see the consular,” I say…laying my passport on her desk…I’m here to dissolve my American citizenship. She rises and taking my passport goes into the open inner office, where she lays the passport on a man’s desk, saying, “there is a Mr. Oswald outside, who says he’s here to dissolve his U.S. citizenship…”thanks,” he says…without looking up from his typing. She…invites me into the inner office to sit down. I do so, selecting an armchair to the front left side of Snyder’s desk.
“I have made up my mind,” Lee says; “I’m through.” He tells Second Secretary, Richard Edward Snyder, that “he had been a radar operator in the Marine Corps and that he had voluntarily stated to unnamed Soviet officials that as a Soviet citizen he would make known to them such information concerning the Marine Corps and his specialty as he possessed. He insinuates that he might know something of special interest.”
Oswald might be alluding to the then-secret U-2 operation that was run from the Atsugi Naval Base in Japan where Oswald was stationed. In May, 1960, Francis Gary Powers is shot down over Sverdlovsk, Russia, in the Ural Mountains while piloting a U-2 high-altitude aircraft on a spy mission for the CIA. The incident gives Soveiet Premier Nikita Khrushchev reason to cancel his scheduled summit meeting with President Eisenhower. At Powers’ trial in Moscow in August, 1960, there is no mention of a possible link between Oswald and Powers.
Oswald’s statements about giving the Russians sensitive information will come back to haunt him later. They will lead to his Marine Corp hardship/honorable discharge being changed to undesirable.
In Russia, Oswald wants to attend Moscow State University, but instead, he is sent to Minsk to work in a factory that produces radios, televisions, and military electronics. Stanislau Shushkevich, who later would become independent Belarus’s first head of state, also works there at the time and is assigned to teach Oswald Russian.
Oswald receives a government-subsidized, fully furnished studio apartment in a prestigious building and an additional supplement to his factory pay. This allows Lee to have a comfortable standard of living by working-class Soviet standards. For some reason, Russian authorities create a life for him that is much more luxurious than what the average Soviet citizen enjoys. Oswald lives alone in a 260 square foot apartment with a bathroom in one of the nicer buildings in Minsk. Contrast that with one of his co-workers, Sergei Skop, who lives in an apartment that he shares with six people.
Then, there’s Ella German, the object of Oswald’s unrequited affection, who lives with her family in one room that is part of a three-bedroom house that three families share. The house has no plumbing, and its inhabitants have to walk several blocks each morning to get water.
Lee meets Ella in April or May, 1960. At that time, she works in the Experimental Department of the television factory. Oswald falls for German almost immediately. In his diary he writes: “Ella German—a silky, black haired Jewish beauty with fine dark eyes skin as white as snow a beautiful smile and good but unpredictable nature, her only fault was that at 24 she was still a virgin, and due entirely to her own desire. I met her when she came to work at our factory. I noticed her, and perhaps fell in love with her, the first minute I saw her.” Ella is the first woman Lee has fallen for. He probably felt more strongly about her than any other woman he ever met, including the woman he eventually marries, Marina Prusakova—and it is his eventual break with her that causes him to reassess his desire to live in the Soviet Union.
Soon Oswald and German are eating lunch together most days. “Lee could go to lunch at any time,” said German. “He was not touched because he was American. He was in a special position, not like all of our workers. He could go earlier, so then I wouldn’t have to stand in line, and he could grab two lunches, for himself and me, and we would sit together.”
Even though Oswald had embraced the principles of communist revolution, he is, by the fall of 1960, beginning to have second thoughts about life in the Soviet Union. Minsk only has so much to offer, and he has by now heard plenty of criticism of the regime. But Oswald is still in pursuit of Ella German. He is having other affairs, but Ella is his true love.
On January 1, 1961, Oswald writes: “New Years I spend at home of Ella German. I think I’m in love with her. She has refused my more dishonorable advances. We drink and eat in the presence of her family in a very hospitable atmosphere. Later I go home drunk and happy. Passing the river homewards, I decide to propose to Ella.”
German is not expecting Oswald on New Year’s Eve. They had made plans to spend the holiday together, but then they had quarreled. At a little past eight in the evening, he turns up at her house with a box of chocolates with a ceramic figurine on top. German asks her mother if he can spend New Year’s Eve with them, and her mother says, “Of course.” Everyone is there: Ella’s mother, her grandmother, her uncles (Boris, Ilya, and Alexander) and each of their wives (Lida, Shura, and Luyba). Ella’s mother sings and plays guitar, and everyone dances.
The day after New Year’s, Oswald sees Ella again. In his diary he writes: “After a pleasant hand-in-hand walk to the local cinema we come home, standing on the doorstep I propose. She hesitates then refuses. My love is real but she has none for me. Her reason besides lack of love: I am American and someday might be arrested simply because of that example — Polish Intervention in the 20’s led to arrest of all people in the Soviet Union of polish origin. ‘You understand the world situation there is too much against you and you don’t even know it.’ I am stunned she snickers at my awkwardness in turning to go (I am too stunned too think!).”
Oswald later writes in his diary: “I realize she was never serious with me but only exploited my being an american in order to get the envy of the other girls who consider me different from the Russian boys. I am miserable!”
By the next day, his anger has subsided, but he is now unhappier than ever. In his diary he writes: “I am miserable about Ella. I love her, but what can I do? It is the state of fear which was always in the Soviet Union.”
Lee is very disheartened by life in the Soviet Union. He hates the long, cold winters and is annoyed by the demands of a collective society and the restrictions of Soviet life. He is homesick, and he starts mentally preparing to leave. On February 5, 1961, after a year and a month in Minsk, Oswald writes to the American Embassy asking for his passport back. “I desire to return to the United States,” he writes, “that is if we could come to some agreement concerning the dropping of any legal proceedings against me.”
Lee Marries Marina
On February 28, 1961, The Embassy notifies Oswald that he will have to come to Moscow to discuss his case. He replies to the Embassy on March 5, 1961, saying that he cannot leave Minsk and asks that “preliminary inquiries” be made regarding his requests. “I understand that personal interviews undoubtedly make the work of the Embassy staff lighter than written correspondence, however, in some cases other means must be employed,” Oswald curtly says in his letter.
A few weeks later, on March 17, 1961, Lee attends a party at the Palace of Trade Unions where he meets Marina Prusakova. She soon becomes a fixture in his life.
The following week, March 24, 1961, Oswald receives a letter from the American Embassy reiterating that he must come to Moscow to make statements under oath. Before he can reply, he is hospitalized with an ear infection, on March 30. His new girlfriend, Marina, is a frequent visitor. During one of the visits, Oswald proposes.
Oswald leaves the hospital on April 11. On April 20, Marina accepts Lee’s marriage proposal, and on April 30, 1961, Lee and Marina are married.
On May 1, Lee writes in his diary: “Found us thinking about our future. In spite of fact I married Marina to hurt Ella, I found myself in love with Marina.” Then, in the entry marked simply “May,” Oswald writes: “The transition of changing full love from Ella to Marina was very painful esp. as I saw Ella almost every day at the factory but as the days and weeks went by I adjusted more and more my wife mentally. I still ardently told my wife of my desire to return to U.S.”
Lee also renews his correspondence with Richard Snyder at the U.S. Embassy regarding his return to the U.S. On May 24, he writes in his letter: “In regard to your letter of March 24, I understand the reasons for the necessity of a personal interview at the embassy, however, I wish to make it clear that I am asking not only for the right to return to the United States, but also for full guarantees that I shall not, under any circumstances, be persecuted (sic) for any act pertaining to this case. As for coming to Moscow, this would have to be on my own initiative, and I do not care to take the risk of getting into an awkward situation unless I think it worthwhile. Also since my last letter I have gotten married.”
Almost a year later, one week before Oswald leaves Minsk, he approaches Ella German at the factory. They have not spoken since she spurned him, and she is surprised when he comes up to her at the end of her shift and tells her he has something important to say. She says they can talk there, but he says it’s too important. He wants to go somewhere private. She says no. It would look bad. She added that she was married now. Lee is surprised. He asks her if he knew the man she had married. She nods, “yes,” and Lee very abruptly, without saying a word, just turns and leaves.
May 25, 1961, Lee notifies the U.S. Embassy that he has married, and he and his wife would like to return to live in the U.S.
On July 8, 1961, Lee goes to Moscow to talk to Richard Snyder at the U.S. Embassy about returning to the U.S. It’s Saturday. Snyder tells Oswald to come back on Monday. On July 9, Marina also comes to Moscow. Oswald returns to the Embassy on Monday where he is questioned at length by Snyder. Lee also fills out a detailed questionnaire about his activities in Russia. Based on the interview and the answers to the questionnaire, Snyder determines that Oswald has not done anything to affect his U.S. citizenship status and agrees to return Oswald’s passport. The next day, Lee and Marina return to the Embassy for her to fill out the necessary papers for her entrance into the U.S. Marina is now two-months pregnant.
Oswald is subjected to months of frustration and humiliation before he can finally leave the country. On August 5, 1961, the Oswalds apply to the Soviet government for permission to leave and return to the U.S. It will take more than 10 months of red tape and wrangling with both the Russian government and the U.S. government before permission is granted. Along the way, they have to beg, borrow and plead with the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and the U.S. government for money to make the trip home. The Russian government is no help at all. Marina does not receive visa approval from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. until March 15, 1962. She quits her job a few days later, expecting to leave within a few days. But it will be several months before they depart.
Marina’s family is very upset by her intention to leave Russia. Her Aunt Valya fears that if Marina defects to the U.S. it will harm her husband’s career. They already have been interviewed by the KGB concerning Marina’s involvement with Lee, so their concern is justified. Marina is so distraught that she waffles on whether to leave or not. She and Lee argue over the issue, and she takes her daughter June and goes to stay with her Aunt Valya. She and Lee finally reconcile three weeks later when Marina agrees to leave with Lee.
On May 24, 1962, Marina goes to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to apply for documents that allow her to immigrate to the U.S. On June 1, the U.S. Embassy gives Oswald a repatriation loan of $435.71 to pay for his family’s trip home. Lee, Marina, and their infant daughter June finally leave for the United States that same day.
Back in the U.S.A.
Lee, Marina and June move to Texas and do not live happily-ever-after. When Lee gets a job, he’s never able to keep it for long. He also displays rage and violent behavior toward his wife. He is a controlling man, and goes to the extreme to keep Marina from learning English with the excuse “he wants to keep practicing his Russian.”
The Oswalds arrive in Hoboken, New Jersey, to little fanfare on June 14. Lee is very disappointed that his return to the U.S. garners so little attention from the press. Apparently, he has delusions about his own importance. The next day, the family arrives in Fort Worth, Texas, and move in with Lee’s brother, Robert.
On June 26, 1962, Lee is interviewed by the FBI for the first time.
In July, Oswald gets a job at the Leslie Welding Company in Dallas. He hates the work and quits after three months.
On August 16, 1962, the FBI interviews Lee a second time.
On August 25, 1962, Lee and Marina attend a dinner party at the home of Paul Gregory, where they meet several members of the local Russian émigré community. They strike up acquaintances with a number of anti-Communist Russian and East European émigrés in the area. The Russian émigrés like and sympathize with Marina, but they can barely stomach Oswald, whom they regarded as rude and arrogant. The Russians eventually turn away from Marina because they can’t stand to be around her husband.
In September, Oswald finds an unlikely friend in 51-year-old Russian émigré George de Mohrenschildt, a well-educated petroleum geologist with international business connections. Marina, meanwhile, befriends Ruth Paine, a Quaker who is trying to learn Russian, and her husband Michael Paine, who works for defense contractor Bell Helicopter.
On October 9, Lee goes to the Texas Employment Commission in Dallas to try to find a new job. He takes and scores well on an aptitude test, and on October 12, he starts a new job at the graphic-arts firm of Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall as a photoprint trainee.
While his family is still with his mother in Fort Worth, Lee moves into the YMCA on Ervay Street in downtown Dallas on October 15, 1962. Coincidentally, Jack Ruby lives at the same Y off and on and often works out there. This is where the two first become acquainted. As he does with everyone, Jack gives Lee a card to his Carousel Club and invites him to come see the shows.
Trouble soon starts at his new job with Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall. Oswald’s rudeness is so bad that he nearly gets in several fights. Other employees also don’t like it that Oswald sometimes reads a Russian-language publication on his breaks.
On November 4, 1962, the Oswalds are reunited at 604 Elsbeth Street in Dallas, where Lee finds an apartment, but trouble soon starts at home, too. Lee is very abusive to Marina and often slaps her around. On the night of November 5, 1962, Lee and Marina have a violent argument, and Marina and June move in with Marina’s friends, the Mellers. They stay there until November 10, 1962, when Marina and June move to the home of the Fords. On November 17, Marina and June spend the day at the home of Mrs. Frank Ray. Marina is essentially homeless in a strange country where she does not speak the language. Fortunately, her situation is temporary. Lee calls that evening and asks to visit Marina, who agrees to go back to him. They return to the Elsbeth Street address that night.
On November 22, 1962, the Oswalds celebrate Thanksgiving at his brother Robert’s home. Also there is his brother John Pic whom Lee hasn’t seen for 10 years.
On January 25, 1963, Lee makes the final two payments on the State Department loan that helped get him and his family back to the U.S. Three days later, orders a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver by mail.
Somewhere around March 9-10, 1963, Oswald secretly takes photographs of the home of former Two-Star General Edwin Walker, a right-wing activist who had recently been fired by President Kennedy.
On March 12, 1963, Lee orders a rifle from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. It’s a surplus Italian Carcano rifle with a telescopic sight. The rifle arrives, along with the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, on March 25. Lee picks them up at the post office. He hides the rifle under his raincoat to board the city bus that takes him to the bus stop near their apartment at 214 W. Neely Street in Oak Cliff. He will use the same tactic to take the gun out for target practice — and also when he tries to shoot General Edwin Walker at his home in Dallas.
Marina is dismayed when he comes home with the guns, but she has little choice but to comply with his demand that she take the famous backyard picture of him holding the rifle with the pistol in a holster. She will later complain to Ruth Paine, “We barely have enough food to eat, and my crazy husband goes out and buys guns.”
The situation is made even worse when Lee loses his job. On April 1, 1963, Lee is fired by Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall after just six months on the job.
On April 7, 1963, Oswald boards a bus with the rifle hidden under his raincoat. The bus takes him into downtown where he transfers to a bus that takes him to the Turtle Creek area of Dallas where Edwin Walker lives. When Oswald gets off the bus, he goes through some trees to a railroad line east of the Walker home. He hides the rifle under a stack of brush next to the rail line, then he catches a bus back to his apartment in Oak Cliff. The gun will stay hidden under the brush for three nights.
Oswald returns on the evening of April 10, 1963, the Wednesday before Easter. A nearby church is holding a service that gets out at 9:00 p.m. Hoping that the sounds of slamming doors and car engines will cover the rifle sound, Oswald crouches in the shadows of the alley behind a low lattice fence behind Walker’s house.
Inside the house, with the window shades raised and the interior lights on, Walker is busy preparing his income tax return that is due in a couple of days. The general is in plain view, motionless at his desk.
Oswald rises from his crouch and steadies the gun on the lattice fence. Looking through the four-power scope, the general’s head is in plain view and is perfectly still. It is the easiest shot he could possibly get. Oswald squeezes the trigger and fires. The rifle stock recoils. The bounce knocks a wood chip from the fence.
It is right at 9 o’clock. Walker “hears the blast and a crack right over my head.”
Without waiting to see if his bullet had found its mark, Oswald hurries back to the railroad track to hide the weapon.
A couple of hours later, Oswald makes his way back home. He is pale and sweaty as he comes into the bedroom where Marina sits up in bed. He collapses on the bed and tells Marina, “I shot Walker.” He is not sure whether he killed him or not. The next day, he learns that he missed. Walker is alive and well.
On April 12, 1963, Lee files for unemployment benefits with the Texas Employment Commission. On April 14, he returns to the scene of the crime to retrieve the rifle. He still can’t believe he missed. Another in a long line of failures. Three days later, he decides to move to New Orleans.
Lee Goes to New Orleans
On April 24, 1963, Ruth drives Lee to the Greyhound Bus station in Dallas, where he leaves for New Orleans. Ruth is relieved to see him go. He arrives on April 25 and moves in with his aunt Lillian Murret, wife of small-time crook Dutz Murret who works for big-time mobster Carlos Marcello.
A few weeks later, Ruth Paine drives Marina and June by car from Dallas to join Oswald in New Orleans. On May 10, Oswald gets a job at the Reilly Coffee Company as a machinery greaser.
While at Reilly Coffee, Lee meets Judyth Vary Baker who later claims that she and Lee get involved in a clandestine plot to create a cancer-causing agent for the CIA to use to kill Fidel Castro. Baker also claims that she and Lee have a torrid love affair and that he spends almost every night with her. Marina, on the other hand, says that Lee is home with her almost every night. (Maybe the rumors about there being two Lee Harvey Oswalds is true.)
On May 26, Oswald writes to the New York City headquarters of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee, proposing to rent “a small office at my own expense for the purpose of forming an FPCC branch here in New Orleans.” Three days later, the FPCC replies to Oswald’s letter advising against opening a New Orleans office “at least not…at the very beginning.” In a follow-up letter, Oswald replies, “Against your advice, I have decided to take an office from the very beginning.”
On May 29, Oswald orders the following items from a local printer: 500 application forms, 300 membership cards, and 1,000 leaflets with the heading, “Hands Off Cuba.” Lee instructs his wife Marina to sign the name “A.J. Hidell” as chapter president on his membership card.
Lee rents a new PO box on June 3, using A.J. Hidell as one of the people that will receive mail there.
On June 8, Marina, who is pregnant, is rejected for treatment at the New Orleans Charity Hospital, infuriating Lee. But on June 16, 1963, he is back in the dissent business, distributing FPCC literature at the Dumaine Street wharf where the U.S.S. Wasp is docked.
On June 24, 1963, Lee applies for a new passport.
On July 9, 1963, Oswald is fired from the Reilly Coffee Company “because his work is not satisfactory and because he spends too much time loitering next door in Adrian Alba’s garage, where he reads rifle and hunting magazines.”
Oswald visits anti-Castro militant Carlos Bringuier on August 5 and 6 at a store Bringuier owns in New Orleans. Bringuier is the New Orleans delegate for the anti-Castro organization Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE). Bringuier believes Oswald’s visits are an attempt to infiltrate his group.
On August 9, Oswald turns up in downtown New Orleans handing out pro-Castro leaflets. Bringuier confronts Oswald. A scuffle ensues and Oswald, Bringuier, and two of Bringuier’s friends are arrested for disturbing the peace. Prior to leaving the police station, Oswald asks to speak with an FBI agent. Oswald states that he is a member of the New Orleans branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee which he claims has 35 members and is led by A. J. Hidell. In fact, Oswald is the branch’s only member and it was never chartered by the national organization.
Lee pleads guilty to the charge of disturbing the peace and is fined $10 on August 12. A week later, on August 16, Oswald again passes out Fair Play for Cuba leaflets with two hired helpers, this time in front of the International Trade Mart. The incident is filmed by WDSU, a local TV station. The next day, Oswald is interviewed by WDSU radio commentator William Stuckey, who probes Oswald’s background. A few days later, Oswald accepts Stuckey’s invitation to take part in a radio debate with Carlos Bringuier and Bringuier’s associate Edward Scannell Butler is head of the right-wing Information Council of the Americas (INCA).
On August 21, 1963, Oswald debates Bringuier and Ed Butler, director of a right-wing group, on a radio program called Conversation Carte Blanche, which runs in New Orleans from 6:05 to 6:30 p.m. Oswald does very well in the debate.
Lee Goes to Mexico
On September 17, 1963, Oswald obtains a tourist card from the Mexican consulate in New Orleans good for one visit to Mexico City. A few days later, on September 20, 1963, Ruth Paine arrives for a visit, and it’s decided that Marina will return to Irving with Ruth for the birth of Marina’s baby.
Ruth drives Marina and June by car from New Orleans to the Paine home in Irving, Texas, near Dallas, on September 23, 1963. Oswald stays in New Orleans at least two more days to collect a $33 unemployment check. It is uncertain when he leaves New Orleans. He is known to have boarded a bus in Houston on September 26, bound for Laredo, Texas.
Lee arrives in Mexico City on September 27. He goes straight to the Cuban Embassy where he applies for a transit visa, claiming he wants to visit Cuba on his way to the Soviet Union. The Cuban embassy officials insist Oswald needs Soviet approval, but he is unable to get prompt cooperation from the Soviet embassy.
After five days of wrangling with bureaucrats at both the Cuban and Soviet Embassy, Oswald’s frustrations boil over. He gets into a heated argument with an official at the Cuban Embassy who tells Oswald he is not inclined to approve a travel visa for someone as rude as Oswald.
The Eye of the Storm
Of course, the real reason Oswald doesn’t get a visa might involve something a lot more serious than petty political games people play. Hurricane Flora is about to smash into Cuba. It will turn out to be one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history, and one of the most destructive hurricanes to hit Cuba in the 20th century. The death toll is at least 7,138, with most of those in Cuba and Haiti. People are trying to get out of Cuba, not go there. Flights into Cuba are being cancelled in advance of the approaching storm. Evacuation plans are being made. Government officials in Cuba have a lot more to worry about than some screwball American in Mexico demanding a travel visa.
A couple of weeks after the storm subsides, on October 18, the Cuban embassy approves the visa. Of course, by this time Oswald is back in the United States and has abandoned his plans to visit Cuba and the Soviet Union. Still later, eleven days before the assassination of President Kennedy, Oswald writes to the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., 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.”
Exactly what was Oswald’s “business” in Cuba? According to Judyth Vary Baker, Oswald was going to Cuba to deliver a poison “cocktail” to an agent who would see to it that it got into Cuba and was administered to Castro.
While the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald had visited Mexico City and the Cuban and Soviet consulates, questions regarding whether someone posing as Oswald had appeared at the embassies were serious enough to be investigated by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Later, the Committee agreed with the Warren Commission that Oswald had visited Mexico City and concluded that “the majority of evidence tends to indicate” that Oswald in fact visited the consulates, but the Committee could not rule out the possibility that someone else had used his name in visiting the consulates. No one could ever verify the existence of a cancer-causing cocktail.
Judyth Vary Baker’s Story: Fact or Fiction?
According to Judyth Vary Baker, in the summer of 1963, she and Lee are brought together in New Orleans as part of a plot to produce a bioweapon to be used to kill Fidel Castro. The C.I.A, plotters get them both “cover” jobs at the Reilly Coffee Company while they are trying to produce the “cocktail” to administer to Castro. The “cocktail” is to include both a virus designed to knock out Castro’s immune system, and cancer cells that will infect him and lead to his death.
Other participants in the plot include C.I.A. spook David Ferrie, Guy Bannister and Dr. Mary Sherman, a physician at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. The research is done, not in some scientific laboratory, but in the apartments of Ferrie and Sherman. Everyone involved in the plot either gets murdered or dies under suspicious circumstance — except for Baker. Is she still alive simply because her involvement was so insignificant that she didn’t know anything, or is she just making the story up?
Oswald’s famous trip to Mexico City is, according to Baker, for the purpose of delivering the poison “cocktail” to an agent who will get it to Cuba and have it administered to Castro. That’s a pretty grandiose scheme. The C.I.A. has already tried more than 600 times to kill Castro, failing each time and looking like fools. Lee Harvey Oswald to the rescue?
Uh, isn’t Oswald a commie? Isn’t Castro a commie? Why would commie Lee want to kill commie Fidel? Sounds a bit nutty, but then, when you consider some of the other bizarre things the C.I.A. and the Kennedys do to try to kill Castro, it doesn’t sound quite so crazy.
Baker also claims that she is having a sexual affair with Oswald during this same time, in spite of the fact she recently married college student Robert Baker, and Oswald is inundated with other endeavors such as anti-Castro activities, pro-communist activities, handing out leaflets on the street, public affray, getting arrested, going to court, paying a fine, doing radio debates, having FBI interviews, trying to get his pregnant wife admitted to a charity hospital, trying to get his undesirable military discharge overturned, etc. Oswald is a very busy guy. It must be extremely challenging for someone who isn’t that good at multitasking.
The weakest part of Baker’s story is that Oswald is recruited to be part of the plot to kill Fidel Castro. That’s a bit hard to believe. Oswald is good at the angry, disgruntled, disaffected stuff, but not so good at being competent. He fails at everything he tries. He can’t finish high school. He can’t finish the Marine Corps (he actually has a nervous breakdown). He can’t get and keep a job. He can’t defect (he totally wimps out). He can’t commit suicide (he tries but fails). He literally has to beg for money to get back into the U.S. He’s a deadbeat who can’t provide for his family, although he irresponsibly fathers two children. He can’t shoot. He misses General Edwin Walker, even though Walker is sitting still at his desk. He shoots himself with his own gun when he is in the Marines. He gets court martialed twice. He spends time in the brig. He gets beaten to a pulp when he starts a fight with another Marine.
Oswald is a poster boy for gun control laws that keep guns out of the hands of nincompoops. If he lived in a village, he’d be the idiot.
Oswald Screws Up, Big Time
So somebody hires this guy to shoot the president of the United States? No, they don’t. What they do is to hire him to bring a gun into the building where he works so somebody who can actually hit a target can shoot the president. Oswald can’t even seem to get that right.
What Oswald is told to do is to bring the gun to the Texas School Book Depository for the Secret Service to use to protect Kennedy. Lee is to stash the rifle on the sixth floor and leave it for an Agent to use in the event a sniper in another building tries to shoot the president. That sounds like a pretty dumb plan, but Oswald is so gullible he actually falls for it.
Who is the “somebody” who hires Oswald. Why, Jack Ruby, of course. Oswald thinks Ruby works for the C.I.A., which, in fact, he does. But Ruby also works for Carlos Marcello. It’s Marcello who tells Ruby to tell Oswald to bring the gun. A guy named Malcolm Wallace is supposed to be the shooter, or actually, the real patsy. Wallace is almost as big a screw-up as Oswald, and Marcello is counting on Wallace being caught. Marcello (and others) have a number of competent assassins positioned around Dealey Plaza. They’ll do the shooting, and Wallace will get the blame, whether he actually manages to shoot Kennedy or not (Wallace is the guy who shoots John Connally, although he’s aiming for Kennedy.).
All Oswald is supposed to do is bring in the rifle, stay put in the building and go home after work as usual. Instead, Oswald panics. He didn’t know Kennedy was going to be killed. He thinks his gun was the murder weapon and he will be implicated. He makes a run for it, or at least a very fast walk for it. He even screws that up. He walks away from the Texas School Book Depository, then gets on a bus headed back toward it.
He eventually makes it to the Greyhound Bus station and gets a cab that takes him to his boarding house in Oak Cliff. He puts on a jacket, gets a pistol and heads for Jack Ruby’s apartment about 10 blocks away. That’s when he encounters Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit at 10th and Patton Streets.
Oswald supposedly shoots and kills Tippit. Given his past record with guns, he probably shoots at Tippit, but misses, even at point blank. Whatever the case, Oswald gets credit for killing Tippit. At last, a notch on the handle for Oswald. Now, he really feels important. His bravado will be on full display during his arrest at the Texas Theater and while he’s talking to the press at Dallas Police headquarters.
Oswald finally gets our attention.