On November 22 1963 one of the most charismatic and popular politicians the world has ever known was murdered by a twenty-four year old communist punk with a $21 mail order rifle. You can’t make it up. But people have been making up stories about the assassination of John F. Kennedy for fifty years.
The first story starts when Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans in 1939, two months after his father died of a heart attack. Lee’s mom put Lee and his brother in a Catholic orphanage until she remarried, then scooped the boys up and started moving them around. By the time Lee was seventeen he had lived in 22 different locations and attended twelve different schools. Lee was a temperamental truant whose only interest was reading socialist literature.
The curious communist joined the Marines in 1957 and was stationed in Japan. There the guy with three first names earned another one: the nickname “Osvaldovich,” for his attempts to learn Russian and for his communist rants. Fellow marine Owen Dejanovich recalled:
“If you complained about, ‘Oh, we’ve got to go on a march this morning” or “We’ve got to scrub barracks or whatever we had to do’…he would say that was the capitalist form of government making us do these things, and that Karl Marx and his form of government would alleviate that.”
Oswald’s shooting ability was at a marksman (average) level. He had trouble with guns. Once he shot himself in the elbow with an unauthorized pistol. Another time he unexpectedly fired his rifle into the jungle while on watch. He was court martialed for the first incident and put in the brig for the second. In 1959 Oswald petitioned for and was granted a hardship discharge on the grounds that Lee’s mother needed his care.
Instead of helping mom, Oswald made a beeline to Moscow, declaring: ““I want citizenship because I am a communist and a worker. I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves.” The Russians thought Lee was an American spy and denied his request. A despondent Oswald wrote a suicide note, got in a bathtub and cut his wrist. He was found and hospitalized before he bled to death. Fearing the American government would blame them for an American dying on their soil, the Russian government granted Oswald citizenship; but the KGB monitored Oswald’s activities, as they still suspected he was a spy.
Oswald was sent to Minsk to work in a factory. He married a local girl named Marina and settled down for two years. A co-worker said of Oswald: “We used to go hunting together. And let me tell you, that boy could not fire a gun. We were frightened every time he tried to shoot.”
Living in Russia depleted Oswald’s zeal for communism. He and Marina immigrated back to Texas in June, 1962. Described as rude and arrogant by those who knew him, Oswald quit or was fired from a series of jobs. In 1963 he mail ordered an Italian sniper rifle and a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver. Upon receiving his weapons Oswald made his first assassination attempt.
His target was retired Major General Edwin Walker, an outspoken right winger who opposed communism and favored segregation. On April 10 1963 Oswald rode a bus to Walker’s house, waited until night, and fired his rifle at Walker as he sat at his desk at home. Oswald was less than 100 feet away with a clear shot, but the bullet struck the window frame.
Oswald moved to new Orleans to head a one man “Fair Play For Cuba” organization, handing out leaflets, debating right wingers on radio stations, and getting arrested for public scuffling with political opponents - an activity that caused the FBI to interview Oswald in August 1963.
The next month Oswald bussed to Mexico City to get a visa to visit Cuba. After arguments with Cubans and Russian KGB agents (and possible CIA involvement), the Cuban embassy stalled about giving Oswald a visa, then decided against it rather bluntly: “a person like (Oswald) instead of aiding the Cuban revolution was doing it harm.” On October 2, 1963, the wannabe Marxist bussed back to Dallas, defeated.
Two weeks later Oswald applied for and was accepted for employment at the Dallas School book Depository as an order filler. On weekends he visited Marina and his daughter, who were staying with friends while her husband looked for revolutions to join. On October 20 their second daughter, Audrey, was born. As Marina was recuperating, her house was visited twice by FBI agents. Oswald responded by giving a handwritten note to the receptionist at the Dallas FBI office that said, “Let this be a warning. I will blow up the FBI and the Dallas Police Department if you don't stop bothering my wife [signed] "Lee Harvey Oswald."
The Dallas newspapers were reporting on President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas on November 23, and the route of the presidential motorcade. Depository employees noted the motorcade would pass by their building. On November 21 Oswald asked a co-worker for a lift to nearby Irving, where his family was living. Leaving his wedding ring and some money behind, Oswald came back with a long bag he said contained curtain rods.
On November 23 Oswald was seen at various places in the Depository Building at noon and afterwards. At 12:30 the presidential motorcade turned onto Elm Street and slowly drove past the School Book Depository building. There was a loud bang, and then silence. Then two more loud noises closer together. Most witnesses would later claim to have heard three gunshots. A witness across from the Depository Building saw a sniper pointing a rifle out of a corner window on the sixth floor, and smoke coming out of the window. The second and third shots killed President Kennedy and wounded Texas Governor John Connally.
The motorcade sped away to the hospital. A description of the man in the sixth floor window was given to the police. Oswald was seen in the second floor lunchroom holding a Coke and appearing calm. As police entered the building to seal it off and search the premises, Oswald quietly slipped away. He took a taxi back to his rooming house and arrived at 1 pm, the same time President John Kennedy was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
Oswald grabbed a jacket and his .38 revolver and took off walking. Around 1:15 Officer JD Tippit pulled alongside Oswald, who matched the description of the assassin. Tippit got out of his squad car and approached Oswald, who shot Tippit four times, killing him. Oswald fled the scene, but was apprehended shortly afterwards in a theater he snuck into. As he was taken away Oswald complained of police brutality and claimed he was being singled out because he used to live in the Soviet Union. He was arrested for the murder of officer Tippit, and later that night for the assassination of President Kennedy.
Oswald’s rifle was found on the sixth floor of the Depository building. Ballistic evidence proved that Oswald’s gun fired the shots that killed the President. The rifle had Oswald’s palm print on the barrel, and fibers from the shirt he was wearing while using the rifle. During interrogation Oswald petitioned to be represented by the chief lawyer of the United States Communist Party, who for some reason did not return Oswald’s phone calls.
While asking the Communists for help, Oswald insisted he was not a communist. "I am a Marxist, but not a Marxist-Leninist. [...] "Well, a Communist is a Leninist-Marxist," Oswald explains, "while I am a true Karl Marxist. I've read just about everything by or about Karl Marx." Whether it was Karl Marx or Harpo Marx, Oswald’s ticket got punched two days later when authorities attempted to move him to the county jail. Jack Ruby appeared out of the crowd and shot Oswald dead on national TV.
Ruby said he shot Oswald out of zeal for the dead President and concern that his widow would have to come to Dallas to testify at Oswald’s trial. Small wonder conspiracy theories have been flying around for decades. An estimated 2,000 conspiracy books and films have been published, a veritable industry of intrigue. One of the main questions is: how could such an oddball knucklehead llike Lee Harvey Oswald pull off a Presidential assassination? His only other assassination attempt failed at closer range, with a target that wasn’t moving.
That was what the Warren Commission attempted to answer during a ten month investigation of the matter. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren headed the commission which eventually issued an 888 page tome on the burning questions. The answers were: Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy, and Jack Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald.
Almost no one believes the Warren Report. A recent poll of Americans revealed that close to seventy per cent of us believe there was some sort of conspiracy involved in the assassination of John Kennedy. The list of suspects is impressive: Lyndon Johnson is suspected of killing Kennedy so he could be President; the Soviets (or KGB) are suspected because the Soviets and America were in a bitter cold war and Oswald was a communist; FBI director Edgar Hoover is suspected because he didn’t get along with John or Robert Kennedy; organized crime is suspected because the Kennedy’s were there enemies, and because Jack Ruby had mob ties; Fidel Castro or Cuban agents are suspected because the CIA attempted to assassinate Castro; the CIA is suspected because they assassinate people; and so on.
It is easy to accuse people, or agencies, or countries of things; it is quite another to prove the accusations. All the theories are tantalizing, and seem superficially plausible, but the proofs offered are little more than conjecture. The Warren Commission did investigate all the conspiracy theories and determined them to be without merit - a conclusion that only added fuel to the conspiracy fire.
In 1979, United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) investigated and for the most part upheld the entire Warren commission report: Oswald acted alone and there were no conspiracies. Near the end of their deliberations, however, a recording was introduced that was said to contain sounds of the 1963 assassination. Four gunshots were heard on tape. The HSCA reversed course, concluding there was a "high probability that two gunmen fired" at Kennedy and that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy."
The committee did not endorse any particular conspiracy theory, and four of the twelve members dissented from this conclusion, finding the tape recording inconclusive regarding the number of shots fired. The dissenting minority were vindicated when the tape recorded evidence was later totally discredited, kicking the props out from under the Committee’s already vague conspiracy theory.
In 1991 Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, was released. It was compelling drama with a science fiction plot that generated more heat than light with its conclusion that forces within the American government engineered the assassination. There was even a claim that an Oswald double was buried in Oswald’s grave. Oswald’s coffin was exhumed and examined. Yep, it was Oswald all right, and back into the ground he went.
All the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories fall silent on one point: why would the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, Castro, the mafia, or LBJ hire a nit wit like Oswald to even sweep the floor, much less entrust the assassination of a United States President to him? On the other hand, what did Oswald have against Kennedy? Oswald’s political enemies were “fascists”. Kennedy was not a fascist, and definitely not a right winger like General Walker or the John Bircher’s Oswald scuffled with in New Orleans. So it is natural to look for reasons to make sense of this mess. And it would be nice if there was a compelling conspiracy theory that made sense and had actual hard evidence to back it up. But after fifty years of trying, we haven’t come up with a better story than this: Oswald did it, acting alone, and Ruby killed Oswald, acting alone.
Lee Harvey Oswald. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 09:02, Oct 02, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/lee-harvey-oswald-9430309.
Bugliosi, Vincent (2008) Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
"Summary of Findings and Recommendations". Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. 1979.