Lee Harvey Oswald

Oswald was indeed a complex character. Although he probably did not seem it, he was just 24 years old when he died, and in his short life he had managed to pack in a huge number of extraordinary things.

Born in New Orleans and brought up mostly by his mother or in care, Oswald left school quite young and joined the Marines. While in the Marines he openly studied the Russian language, despite being stationed in sensitive locations such as the top secret US radar base at Atsugi, Japan.

One day, Oswald left the Marines and very shortly after, defected to the Soviet Union, renouncing his US citizenship and handing himself over to the authorities in Moscow. He campaigned for Soviet citizenship, which he never attained, and later moved to Minsk where he met his wife, Marina, and where their first child was born.

After some time in the Soviet Union, Oswald was suddenly repatriated to the United States and quickly given back his passport. He and his wife returned to New Orleans and later moved to Dallas where, although they were not totally estranged, they lived separately, he taking lodgings and she living with friends with their first child and with a second on the way.

Oswald opened the southern branch of the Fair Play For Cuba Committee, a communist organisation campaigning for the recognition of Cuba. The organisation was based in New York and they were surprised to have someone volunteer to set up a branch in a part of the country where support for left wing causes was likely to be thin on the ground. Indeed, Oswald was the only member of his branch, although he did openly campaign for it, appearing in photographs and film distributing leaflets in support of their cause, and even appearing once on local TV explaining their tenets and objectives. In his television interview he defended himself as a Marxist-Leninist, rather than a communist. A subtle distinction that few American viewers would have appreciated.

All this was complex enough in assessing Oswald, but to add to the enigma, he clearly had associations with organisations such as the CIA and the FBI. Garrison established a link to the CIA in New Orleans, and Oswald was known to meet regularly with an FBI agent called James Hosty, presumably in his role as an informant. Oswald’s behaviour in defecting to the USSR, his failed attempts to get citizenship and his rapid return to the USA suggested espionage activities of some sort. Could it be that he had been recruited by the CIA during his stay in Atsugi, or perhaps even sooner? Many have speculated that he had various intelligence roles, although it was unlikely he was a member of the CIA. Was he a double agent? Did he really defect or was it an attempt to penetrate Soviet intelligence that failed? Some even speculate that the man who returned to the United States was not in fact the same man that went, but some sort of doppelganger. Indeed looking closely at photographs of Oswald before and after his Russian excursion, there are distinct and noticeable differences.

If all this was of relevance, then how did Oswald become involved in the assassination and in particular, how did he become a patsy, if that is what he was?

Oswald had only been working for a short time in the Book Depository and it is clear that it was pre-determined that he should be working there. Prior to the 22nd November, Oswald had been involved in a variety of strange activities, including the attempted shooting of Major General Edwin Walker, the test driving of cars in the Dallas area, despite not being able to drive, visits to embassies in Mexico City, and most bizarrely of all, posing for photographs of himself holding the rifle used in the assassination in one hand and a communist publication in the other, his revolver in his belt.

Cover of Life Magazine
One of three photographs (the Backyard Photographs) discovered after the assassination showing Lee Harvey Oswald in similar, bizarre poses, in the backyard of his apartment, holding the rifle alleged by the Warren Commission to have been used by him to kill the President. In his right hand is a copy of a left-wing publication. Some believe the pictures were faked to establish Oswald's links to the left wing.

The "Backyard Photographs" were crucially important evidence against Oswald. They showed him in a defiant pose, and clearly added weight to the argument that he was unbalanced and a committed militant. For someone intent on killing the president they were strange photographs to be taking, and Oswald claimed never to have seen them when he was shown them. He suggested that they had been faked and over the years many have supported the assertion that the photographs were indeed fabricated by superimposing Oswald’s head on to someone else’s body.

Lee Harvey Oswald Press Conference
Following his arrest, Oswald took part in several press conferences. He repeatedly professed his innocence and claimed to be a patsy, although no time was given to allow him to present his case fully. At one of these press conferences, Jack Ruby was seen, identified, and indeed filmed, on the back row of the press corps. He even spoke out to correct a statement regarding Oswald's membership of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which strongly suggested he knew him prior to the assassination.

The rifle too was crucial evidence against Oswald. It was purchased mail order and despatched to a post office box which was in the name of Alek J Hidell, an alias that was traced to Oswald who had identification in that name in his possession at the time of his arrest. There was little doubt it was his, but how did he get it into work that day?

Although not usually on a Friday, Oswald occasionally had a lift to work with a friend, and on this day he carried a long brown paper bag in which he claimed to be carrying curtain rods. He was to be hanging them over the weekend. The Warren Commission claimed the rifle was carried in the bag, broken down, and no evidence was found of curtain rods later. However, many believed that based on the testimony of his friend and chauffeur of the morning, in which he demonstrated how Oswald carried the package under his arm, it was considered doubtful that the rifle could have been carried in that way due to its length.

Oswald was in the first floor lunch room when the President passed according to him, but that in itself would have been unusual behaviour given that everyone else would be looking out at the passing motorcade. Perhaps he was deliberately setting an alibi knowing he must be seen as soon as anyone came into the building? Perhaps he was waiting for something, because as soon as the motorcade had passed he left the building and proceeded to make his way home. Could it be that he knew what had happened believing he had a quite different role in proceedings? Could it be that he had another assignment to undertake? Would this be the ideal way to set him up to be the fall guy such that he would walk into the trap thinking he was part of a conspiracy, but not perhaps the part he had expected?

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