Lee Harvey Oswald

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Lee Harvey Oswald (October 18, 1939November 24, 1963) was the assassin of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, according to the conclusions of two government investigations into the assassination. Critics of the official accounts have claimed that Oswald did not act alone or was not involved at all and was framed, but no single compelling alternative suspect has emerged.

This photo, showing Oswald wielding a , a , and the  daily  , was taken on ,  by his wife Marina. The  labeled the photo as exhibit 133-A. Since Oswald's death, questions have risen about the photo's authenticity, although the  in the  concluded that it is genuine.
This photo, showing Oswald wielding a rifle, a handgun, and the Belgrade daily newspaper Politika, was taken on March 31, 1963 by his wife Marina. The Warren Commission labeled the photo as exhibit 133-A. Since Oswald's death, questions have risen about the photo's authenticity, although the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the 1970s concluded that it is genuine.

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 and his two older siblings, his brother Robert and his half-brother John Pic (Marguerite’s child by her first marriage). His mother doted on him to excess, but despite this she was a domineering and quarrelsome woman and all three of her children entered the US armed forces. They lived an itinerant lifestyle; before the age of 18, Oswald had lived in 22 different residences and attended 12 different schools, mostly around New Orleans and Dallas.

Oswald was a withdrawn and temperamental child. After they moved in with John Pic, who had joined the US Coast Guard and was stationed in New York City, Oswald struck and pulled a knife on his mother. His truancy caused him to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, who diagnosed the 14 year old Oswald as having a "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies." Marguerite fled back south with her son before he could be institutionalized.

When he was enrolled in school, Oswald attended infrequently. He never received a high school diploma and was for his entire life quite a terrible speller; in fact, his letters and diary have led some to speculate that he was dyslexic. Despite this, he read voraciously and as a result thought he was better educated than those around him. Starting at around age 15, he became an ardent communist, solely from his reading on the topic. Lee writes 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." Despite his communism, Oswald was eager to become a US Marine. He idolized his older brother Robert and wore Robert’s Marine ring constantly. This relationship overrode the obvious ideological conflict for Oswald, and he also may have wanted to escape from his mother. He enlisted in 1956, a week after his seventeenth birthday.

Oswald was trained as a radar operator and assigned to Atsugi, Japan. Though Atsugi was the base for the U-2 spy planes which flew over the USSR, Oswald was not involved in that operation. Oswald’s experience in the Marine Corps was unpleasant. Small and frail compared to the other Marines, he was nicknamed "Ozzie Rabbit". His meekness and his communism did not endear him to his compatriots, and the more ostracized he was, the more ardent and outspoken a communist he became, to the point where his nickname became "Oswaldskovich". He subscribed to The Worker and taught himself rudimentary Russian. Oswald was court martialed twice, first for unauthorized possession of a private weapon, and later for starting a fight with a sergeant. As a result, he lost his promotion to corporal and served time in the brig. He was not punished for another incident in which he broke down and started firing his rifle into the woods. By the end of his Marine career, he was doing menial labor.

The Soviet Union

Oswald's 1959 trip to the Soviet Union was well planned. In addition to his studies of Russian, he saved his Marine Corps salary, he got an early discharge by claiming he needed to care for his mother (a lie), and submitted several falsified applications to universities to aid in his quest to get a student visa. After entering the Soviet Union as part of a package tour, he declared that he wished to defect. Initially, his effort was encouraged, though as he was of little value to the Soviet Union, his application was rejected. A despondent Oswald attempted suicide by slashing his left wrist in his hotel bathtub. With authorities fearing an international incident should Oswald attempt suicide again, Oswald was eventually allowed to stay and shipped off to Minsk, where he was kept under nearly constant surveillance during his stay in the country. The Minsk KGB had never had their own American case and they threw themselves into the task with gusto, the result being the lengthy KGB file no. 31451, a day by day account of Oswald's life.

Initially, Oswald seemed to thrive. He had a job as a metalworker at the Belorussian Radio and Television Factory and his own rent-free apartment and monetary subsidies above his factory pay, an idyllic existence by Soviet-era working-class standards. He was called "Alek" by his friends, who thought "Lee" was too Chinese. He bought a shotgun and went hunting with friends and dated women he met at trade union dances. However, Oswald was tired of his life. The bureaucracy of the Soviet Union eventually caused Oswald to believe the country was a poorly implemented perversion of Marxist goals; he believed himself to be a pure Marxist. He grew bored with the limited recreation that Minsk offered and was stunned when a co-worker he proposed to, Ella Germann, rejected him.

At a dance, Oswald met Marina Alexandrovna Medvedeva Nikolayevna Prusakova, a 19 year old pharmacology student. They were married less than a month and a half later. It was not the ideal basis for such a union, as Oswald was on the rebound from Ella. Marina, some believe, married Oswald for his standard of living (his own apartment, etc.) or in order to immigrate to the U.S. "Maybe I was not in love with Alik as I ought to have been," she admits. This seems possible, as she later wrote love letters to two of her ex-boyfriends while in the US, before Oswald was accused. Marina also soon became pregnant, and gave birth to a daughter, June. Oswald renounced his renunciation of American citizenship, and after nearly a year of paperwork and waiting, the family left the Soviet Union on June 1, 1962.


Back in the United States, the Oswald family settled in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Oswald attempted to write a memoir and commentary on Soviet life, a small manuscript called The Collective. Oswald soon abandoned the idea, but searching for feedback did put him in touch with the area's close-knit community of Russian émigrés. They merely tolerated Oswald, but they took to Marina, feeling sorry for her because she was in a foreign country with no knowledge of English, which Oswald refused to teach her, and because Oswald had begun to beat her. They eventually abandoned Marina, however, because she would not leave Oswald. From this group, Oswald found an unlikely best friend, the outrageous oil geologist Baron George de Mohrenschildt. Perhaps they took to each other because they were polar opposites, or perhaps de Mohrenschildt, who liked playing the provocateur, enjoyed putting people off with the disagreeable and sullen Marxist Oswald. Marina also befriended a married couple, Ruth and Michael Paine.

In Dallas, Oswald worked for the Leslie Welding Company, but abandoned the job, which he hated, after three months. Then he obtained a position at the graphic arts firm of Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall as a photoprint trainee. The company is often cited as doing classified work for the US government, but that work was limited to typesetting for maps and was conducted in a section which Oswald had no access to. Oswald used the equipment he did have access to to create fake identifications (http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh19/html/WH_Vol19_0153b.htm) and other documents in the name of an alias he created, "Alek James Hidell". After six months, Oswald was fired. His co-workers and supervisors grew frustrated with his inefficency and he was inconsiderate of the other workers, to the point where fistfights threatened to break out. His supervisor terminated him after seeing him reading a Russian satiric magazine, Krokodil, in the cafeteria.

The attempted assassination of General Walker

General Edwin Walker was an anti-communist, segregationist, and member of the John Birch Society. Walker was commanding officer of the 24th Army Division under NATO, but was relieved of this post by JFK in 1961 for distributing right-wing literature to his troops. Walker resigned from the Army and returned to his native Texas. He ran in the six-man 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 by joining forces with an evangelist in an anti-communist tour called "Operation Midnight Ride".

Oswald began to put Walker under surveillance, taking pictures of Walker's home and nearby railroad tracks, perhaps his planned escape route, using the same camera used by Marina to take the famous backyard poses (see below). Oswald mail-ordered a rifle (see below) using his alias Hidell (he had already ordered a pistol in January). He planned the assassination on April 10, ten days after he was fired from Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall. He chose a Wednesday evening because 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 (http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/walkernote1.jpg) in Russian for Marina with instructions 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, deflecting its path, though he was injured in the forearm by fragments.

At the time, authorities had no idea who attempted to kill Walker. Marina saw Oswald burn most of his plans in the bathtub, though she hid the note he left her in a cookbook, intending to bring it to the police should Oswald again attempt to kill Walker or anyone else. Oswald's involvement was unknown until the note and some of the photos were found by the authorities following the assassination of JFK. The bullet was too badly damaged to run conclusive ballistics tests, though neutron activation tests later proved that the bullet was from the same manufacturer as the one that killed Kennedy.

New Orleans

Oswald was unemployed, he had failed to kill General Walker, and his best friend, de Mohrenschildt, had moved away from Dallas. Leaving Marina (who was pregnant for the second time) with the Paines, he returned to the city of his birth to look for work, arriving on the morning of April 25. In May, Oswald got a job with the Reily Coffee Company (from which he was fired in July) and Marina joined him in New Orleans, driven there by Ruth Paine.

Though Oswald got a new passport and had Marina write to the Soviet embassy about returning to the Soviet Union, he was still disillusioned with that country. His Marxist hopes were pinned on Fidel Castro and Cuba; he became a vocal pro-Castro advocate. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was a national organization and Oswald, unsolicited, set out to become a one-man New Orleans chapter. Oswald spent $22.73 on 1000 flyers, 500 membership applications, and 300 membership cards and had Marina sign the name "A.J. Hidell" as chapter president on one of the cards.

Missing image
Oswald's New Orleans mug shot, August 9, 1963

Most of Oswald's work consisted of passing out flyers. He made a clumsy attempt to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups and briefly met with the skeptical Carlos Bringuier, the New Orleans delegate for the Cuban Student Directorate. Several days later Bringuier and two friends confronted a man passing out pro-Castro handbills and discovered it was Oswald. In the ensuing scuffle, all were arrested and Oswald spent the night in jail. The trial got press attention and Oswald was interviewed afterwards. He was also 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 work came to an end with a WDSU radio debate between Bringuier and Oswald arranged by journalist Bill Stuckey. Instead of discussing issues concerning Cuba, Oswald was confronted with lies and omissions he had made concerning his background. Oswald was devastated and humiliated, and a month later he left New Orleans.

Oswald's four months in the city are the subject of much attention, most notably New Orleans DA Jim Garrison's attempt to link Oswald to local businessman Clay Shaw, former president of the International Trade Mart. The links between Oswald and Shaw were supposedly W. Guy Banister, a former FBI agent turned detective, and David Ferrie, a pilot and amateur cancer researcher who wore an ill-fitting red wig because a rare disease made him hairless. Ferrie and Oswald were both in the Civil Air Patrol in New Orleans in the 1950s and a CAP group photo (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/oswald/glimpse/ferrie.html) shows them together, though there is no credible evidence that they knew each other then or in 1963. Banister had an office in the building at 544 Camp Street and Oswald stamped some (but not all) of his flyers with that address. There is also no credible evidence that Oswald knew Banister or rented an office at Banister's building, and in any case Oswald's letters, applications, etc. were constantly filled with lies. But Oswald must have known the building since the Reily Coffee Company is only a block away. It was also home to the anti-Castro Cuban Revolutionary Council, and using their address may have been Oswald's way of attempting to embarrass them.


Ruth Paine drove to New Orleans to bring Marina back to Dallas, while Oswald lingered in the city for two more days in order to collect a $33 unemployment check. He boarded a bus to Houston, but instead of heading north to Dallas he boarded a bus southwest towards Laredo and the Mexican border. In Mexico, he planned to continue on to Cuba, a plan which he openly shared with other passengers on the bus. Once in Mexico City, he filled out a visa application (http://jfkassassination.net/russ/infojfk/jfk3/3p137f407.jpg) at the Cuban consulate claiming he wanted to stop there on his way back to the Soviet Union. The Cubans insisted the Soviet Union needed to approve his journey to that country first before he could get a Cuban visa, and he was rejected by the Soviet Embassy once they checked up on him with Moscow. After shuttling back and forth between consulates for five days, Oswald returned to Dallas. Disappointed and surprised that he was not quickly allowed into Cuba despite his work on behalf of the Cuban revolution, he never spoke in glowing terms about Cuba or Castro again.

The rifle and Oswald’s marksmanship

Lee Harvey Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, in the US National Archives
Lee Harvey Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, in the US National Archives

In March 1963, Oswald (using the name of his ex-boss in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, Alek J. Hidell) allegedly purchased a rifle and handgun that were later linked by investigators to the events of November 22, 1963.


6.5x52mm Mannlicher-Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle
Serial number C2766
Western Cartridge 160 grain (10.37 g) ammunition
Side-mounted Ordnance Optics 4 x 18 scope


0.38 Special Smith & Wesson Victory revolver 2.25 in (57 mm) barrel
Serial number V510210
Converted from 0.38 S&W, shortened from 5 in (127 mm) barrel

The rifle was kept in the garage of family friends, Michael and Ruth Paine, at whose home Marina Oswald was living at the time. See Warren Commission report describing testimony of Michael R. Paine and his wife, Ruth Paine. [1] (http://www.jfkassassination.net/russ/testimony/paine_m1.htm)

During his military career Oswald scored as a "sharpshooter" in December 1956, on two occasions achieving 48 and 49 out of 50 during rapid fire at a 200 yard (183 m) distant target, but failed to attain a marksmanship badge. Skeptics doubt the likelihood of Oswald being able to fire shots so accurately and rapidly with the weapon and from the position he was theorized to use to kill Kennedy moving at 9 to 12 mph (14 to 19 km/h). They argue that expert marksmen could not accomplish Oswald's alleged feat in their first try during the re-enactments 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, which was the FBI's technical estimate of the minimum time in which three shots could be aimed and fired with that specific model of rifle. The use of this number has been heavily disputed, with modern analysis of a digitally enhanced Zapruder film suggesting that the first and final shots may have come as much as 8.4 seconds apart.

Even so, many of CBS's 11 volunteer marksmen, who (unlike Oswald) had had no prior experience with a Mannlicher-Carcano, were able to hit the target three times in well under the time allotted.

The assassination of JFK

According to the Warren Commission report on the John F. Kennedy assassination, Oswald shot Kennedy from a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, where he was employed during the Christmas rush, as the President's motorcade passed through Dallas's Dealey Plaza at 12:30 pm on November 22. Texas Governor John Connally was wounded at the same time, along with an assassination witness, James Tague, who was standing some 270 feet (82 m) in front of the presidential limousine. However, critics of this account assert that photographic and filmed evidence indicate that there were at least one or two shooters in an area known as the grassy knoll behind a picket fence atop a small sloping hill in Dealey Plaza, to President Kennedy's right-front. This is because from the 8mm films, it appears that the direction of President Kennedy's body was in a decidedly back and left direction after the shot. However, if the films are viewed frame by frame, it can be seen that there is a sudden, violent forward-motion of the president, inconsistent with anything but a sudden stop of the limo, (which didn't happen) or a rear-ward shot, as from the book depository. Several frames of video after the violent forward motion there is a second, backward motion, consistent (and indeed could only occur from) a rear shot. This oddity is attributed to the spin's characteristics during such an event. A large portion of brain matter was also projected forward, but some protest that this is not evidence of a rear shot by Oswald.

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

Oswald immediately headed for the back staircase, disposing of the rifle behind some boxes. On the second floor, he encountered Marrion Baker, a policeman who had driven his motorcycle to the door of the Depository and sprinted up the stairs to search for the shooter. With him was Oswald's boss, Roy Truly, who identified Oswald as an employee, so Baker let Oswald pass. Oswald bought a Coke from a vending machine in the second floor lunchroom, crossed the floor to the front staircase, then descended and left the building through the front entrance on Elm Street.

At about 12:40 PM (CST), Oswald boarded a bus by pounding on the door in the middle of the block, but when traffic slowed the bus to a halt, he requested a bus transfer (http://www.jfkassassination.net/transfer.gif) from the driver. He took a cab to a point a few blocks away from his rooming house, then walked there to retrieve his pistol and beige jacket. He lingered at a bus stop across the street then began walking. His ultimate destination is unknown, but before he was stopped, he had walked almost a mile, and was only four blocks away from a 1:40 pm bus which could have connected him with a Greyhound headed south for Mexico.

Patrolman J. D. Tippit had undoubtedly heard the general description of the shooter, based on the statement Howard Brennan, who had seen Oswald in the window of the Depository from across the street, gave to police and was broadcast at 12:45. Tippit spotted Oswald about 1:15 PM (CST) near the corner of Patton Avenue and Tenth Street and pulled up next to him to talk to him through his car window. Tippit then got out of his car and Oswald pulled his .38 and shot him, killing him instantly. Thirteen people either witnessed the shooting or identified Oswald fleeing the scene.

Oswald allegedly emptied his revolver and reloaded, leaving the shells behind. He also left his jacket in the parking lot of a nearby gas station. He ducked into the entrance way of a shoe store on Jefferson Street to avoid some passing police cars, then dashed into the nearby Texas Theater without paying. The shoe store’s manager followed him and alerted the ticket clerk, who phoned police. The police quickly arrived and poured into the theater, which was playing War Is Hell starring Audie Murphy. Officer M.N. McDonald saw Oswald sitting near the back and ordered him to stand. Oswald punched McDonald and drew his gun, but McDonald tackled Oswald before he could fire. Police arrested him and took him away, past a crowd who had gathered outside the theater and shouted for Oswald’s death.

Oswald was arrested at the Texas Theater in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff at about 1:50 pm, first as a suspect in the shooting of Tippit and was then charged with assassinating Kennedy, even though the arraignment hearing on the Kennedy charge was abruptly interrupted and never did get finished, so he was never really officially charged with the assassination of President Kennedy.

While in custody, Oswald denied the shooting, telling reporters "I didn't shoot anyone" and "I'm just a patsy".

Oswald's death

Missing image
Famous picture, by Robert H. Jackson, of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald

On November 24, at 11:21 am CST, after 15 hours of undocumented interrogations, while he was being transferred via car to a nearby jail, Oswald was shot and killed in the basement of the Dallas police jail, in front of live TV cameras, by Jack Ruby a Dallas nightclub owner with friends and acquaintances in the U.S. mafia.

Millions watched the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on television. It was the first time in TV history that a murder was captured and shown publicly live, but it was shown live on only one network, NBC.

The route that Ruby took to get down into the basement of the Dallas jail has been disputed, although Ruby was very specific about using the entrance ramp (and his access to the jail on other days). This was recorded during the polygraph test Ruby insisted on taking and documented in a Warren report appendix. One witness, a former policeman named Napoleon Daniels, stated that he had seen Ruby use the ramp. The use of a route through the jail building suggests to some that Ruby had received help from authorities inside the building, however, many journalists entered the building without having their credentials checked, and Ruby can be seen on film also inside the building on the previous Friday night, apparently posing as a reporter.

One of the several questions Ruby showed signs of lying about (despite the polygraph operator having turned-down the sensitivity mechanism of the polygraph machine) was when Ruby answered "no" to if he ever knew Oswald. In the preparations to his trial Ruby later stated that he killed Oswald on the spur of the moment to spare Jacqueline Kennedy the stress and embarrassment a trial would cause her, and 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. Immediately after his arrest however, Ruby expressed to Dallas policemen that the American people would see him "as a hero" and/or that the murder was proof that "Jews have guts."

Oswald’s grave (http://jfkassassination.net/parnell/grave.htm) 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 was stolen and replaced with a marker which simply reads "Oswald". Immediately adjacent is a marker which reads "Nick Beef", the stage name of a local comedian who purchased the site and used that fact in his act. Oswald's wife, Marina, married Kenneth Porter in 1965 and her daughters took Porter's last name.


The Warren Commission created by President Lyndon B. Johnson on November 29, 1963 to investigate the assassination, concluded that Oswald did assassinate Kennedy and that he acted alone (also known as the Lone gunman theory). The proceedings of the commission were secret, and 3+% of its files have yet to be released to the public, further fuelling speculation about the assassination. 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."

The 1981 exhumation

In October 1981, Oswald was subject to 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 (The book was 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 clone. Eddowes's support for his thesis was a claim that the corpse buried in 1963 in the Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park cemetery in Fort Worth, Texas did not have a scar that resulted from surgery conducted on Oswald years before. The final results of the exhumation found that the corpse they studied was Oswald's. The finding was based on dental records.

Oswald in fiction

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. The 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 The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

Further reading

External links

de:Lee Harvey Oswald nl:Lee Harvey Oswald fi:Lee Harvey Oswald fr:Lee Harvey Oswald he:לי הארווי אוסוואלד ja:リー・ハーヴェイ・オズワルド no:Lee Harvey Oswald sv:Lee Harvey Oswald


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