Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?
Dedicated to our colleague
WRITTEN, PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE—
RUTH PAINE, Friend: He lives in this fantasy about being a great man.
ANNOUNCER: —the loner and the dreamer at the heart of the Kennedy assassination.
MICHAEL PAINE, Friend: He wanted to be an active guerrilla in the effort to bring about a new world order.
NEWSCASTER: —Texas Book Depository—
NEWSCASTER: President Kennedy’s been cut down by assassin’s bullets—
ANNOUNCER: Twenty years ago, FRONTLINE documented the life of Lee Harvey Oswald before memories faded.
NEWSCASTER: —the chaos that was taking place. This gentleman and his wife and two children were on the grass—
EYEWITNESS: —and we heard a blast—
EYEWITNESS: The shots came from above—
EYEWITNESS: Boom! Click, click. Boom! Click click—
EYEWITNESS: And the president looked like that he right jumped up in his seat—
EYEWITNESS: Boom! Click, click—
EYEWITNESS: —and he fell shot in the side of the head.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Cmte.: Any effort to explain what happened in Dallas must explain Lee Harvey Oswald. He is not an easy man to explain.
REPORTER: Did you shoot the president?
ANNOUNCER: Lone gunman or part of a conspiracy? The evidence is often ambiguous.
On the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, FRONTLINE’s definitive investigation of the mysterious life and character of Lee Harvey Oswald.
NARRATOR: At the edge of downtown Dallas, the Union Pacific Railroad crosses a triple underpass near a place called Dealey Plaza. On the north side of Dealey Plaza are the Dallas County jail, the courthouse and the Texas School Book Depository. In Dealey Plaza, it will always be November 22nd, 1963.
TV SHOW HOSTESS: I notice that there are a number of hidden zippers in these jackets. Now, what are these for, Betsy? They can’t be for— is it for mad money?
MODEL: Well, it depends on where they’re placed. They can be wherever you want them—
1st REPORTER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You’ll excuse the fact that I’m out of breath. But this is from the United Press, from Dallas. “President Kennedy and Governor John Connally have been cut down by assassins’ bullets in downtown Dallas. They were riding in an open automobile when the shots were fired.”
2nd REPORTER: —the Texas School Book Depository, headed for the triple underpass. There were three loud, reverberating—
3rd REPORTER: —shots were fired, and he happened to look up at about the fifth or sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository. He said he saw the rifle being pulled back in.
1st REPORTER: Bert? Let’s see. Let’s get reorganized here. Grab that cable over there. We’re on the air, Bert. And let’s talk to you—
4th REPORTER: Officials were en route as fast as they could get there, to Parkland Hospital—
5th REPORTER: This is what I’ve been told today. The president was shot in the head. Connally was shot in the chest. Both of them are still alive when I left the hospital.
1st REPORTER: Do you have some film?
5th REPORTER: Yeah, I have film. I left the hospital—
1st REPORTER: Will you get the film and see if you can get it developed real quick—
5th REPORTER: Yeah, I will.
6th REPORTER: A priest has been ordered. Emergency supplies of blood also being rushed to the hospital.
7th REPORTER: There’s another bulletin coming in—
8th REPORTER: When I first looked over the balcony—
1st REPORTER: A gentleman just walked in our studio, that I am meeting for the first time, as well as you. This is WFAA-TV in Dallas, Texas. May I have your name, please, sir?
ABRAHAM ZAPRUDER: My name is Abraham Zapruder.
1st REPORTER: Mr. Zapuda?
ABRAHAM ZAPRUDER: Zapruder, yes, sir.
1st REPORTER: Zapruder. And would you tell us your story, please, sir?
ABRAHAM ZAPRUDER: I got out and— about a half hour early to get a good spot to shoot some pictures. As the president’s coming down from Houston Street, making his turn, I heard a shot, and he slumped to the side, like this. Then I heard another shot or two. I couldn’t tell you whether it was one or two. And I saw his head practically open up, all blood and everything. And I kept on shooting. That’s about all. I’m just sick. I can’t—
1st REPORTER: I think that pretty well expresses the entire feelings of the whole world.
ABRAHAM ZAPRUDER: Terrible.
NARRATOR: Within two hours, the police had arrested 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald. He was a former Marine who had once defected to the Soviet Union. Only weeks earlier, he had visited Soviet and Cuban diplomatic missions in Mexico.
JAMES P. HOSTY, FBI: The original complaint that the police department filed on Lee Oswald, around midnight on the 22nd of November, said that Lee Oswald did, “in furtherance of an international communist conspiracy, assassinate President John F. Kennedy.”
NARRATOR: That night, as Air Force One brought John Kennedy’s body home to Washington, the new president was afraid that Oswald’s apparent communist connections could spark an international crisis. President Johnson ordered the district attorney to drop any reference to a communist conspiracy.
Pres. LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON: This is a sad time for all people—
JAMES P.HOSTY: Johnson was fearful that if this had gotten out, it would inflame public opinion and could possibly lead to World War III. This is exactly how World War I began, with an assassination.
NARRATOR: Nine months later, President Johnson’s Warren Commission concluded there had been no conspiracy. But in 1979, the House Assassinations Committee concluded there probably had been a plot to kill the president. Meanwhile, conspiracy theories have multiplied as Hollywood movies and 2,000 books have accused the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, Fidel Castro, anti-Castro Cubans, the KGB, the Mafia, right-wing oil men and even Lyndon Johnson himself of assassinating John Kennedy.
1st REPORTER: Did you shoot the president?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: I’m just a patsy.
2nd REPORTER: Did you shoot the president?
NARRATOR: Lone gunman, conspirator or patsy, lee Harvey Oswald is the ambiguous figure at the heart of the Kennedy assassination.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Cmte.: Any effort to explain what happened in Dallas must explain Lee Harvey Oswald, you know, and Lee Harvey Oswald is a mystery wrapped up in an enigma hidden behind a riddle. He is not, I put it in simple words, an easy man to explain.
NARRATOR: And easy explanations died 50 years ago, when Oswald in his turn fell to an assassin’s bullet.
1st REPORTER: He’s been shot! Lee Oswald has been shot!
2nd REPORTER: He is shot! Oswald— it is Oswald!
NARRATOR: As a boy, the Bronx Zoo was a haven for Lee Oswald. He seemed to prefer the company of animals to people. He had not set foot in school for nearly two months when he was picked up at the zoo for truancy and taken to juvenile court.
Lee thought he had better ways to use his time than go to school. He spent his days at the public library and museums, and endless hours learning the New York City subway system.
EVELYN SIEGEL, Social Worker: I remember him vividly. He was a skinny, unprepossessing kid. He was not a mentally disturbed kid. As a matter of fact, his IQ was better than average. He was just emotionally frozen. He was a kid who had never developed a really trusting relationship with anybody.
NARRATOR: He was born October 18th, 1939, in New Orleans, the son of Marguerite and Robert Oswald.
ROBERT OSWALD, Brother: You go back to the death of Dad two months before he was born— that’s a tremendous impact. What Lee missed from his childhood, in comparison to me, was the whole family being together all the time, the continuity there, the stability. The lack of stability, I think, entered into that to a large degree.
NARRATOR: Marguerite sent the older boys into an orphanage. Lee stayed with his mother.
ROBERT OSWALD: I don’t know at what age Mother verbalized to Lee to the effect that she felt he was a burden to her. Certainly by age 3, he had the sense that, you know, we were a burden.
NARRATOR: When he was 3 years old, Lee, too, was sent to the orphanage. Like Lee, Marguerite herself grew up without a parent. It was their common bond.
ROBERT OSWALD: She had certain characteristics that were so much like Lee. The time and circumstances always seemed to be against her. The world owed her a living. She wanted to be somebody. I think this was passed on to Lee.
NARRATOR: At the age of 12, Lee was back with his mother. They moved to a small apartment in the Bronx. While Marguerite worked days in a dress shop, Lee spent his time alone.
EVELYN SIEGEL: From what I could garner, he really interacted with no one. He made his own meals. His mother left at around 7:00 and came home at 7:00, and he shifted for himself. You got the feeling of a kid nobody gave a darn about him. He was just floating along in the world with no emotional resources at all.
NARRATOR: His political awakening came in 1953, when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death as Russian spies.
EDWARD J. EPSTEIN, Author, Legend: The first instance we have of Lee Harvey Oswald’s politics is that he picked up a leaflet in New York City about the coming execution of the Rosenbergs. And as he reads this, it begins to show him that there’s a way of finding himself by opposing the established order.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “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.”
NARRATOR: When the truant officer came after Lee again, he and his mother fled New York. They moved back to New Orleans, to the edge of the French Quarter. But their home was far from the tourists on Bourbon Street.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: That street at that time was one den of iniquity after another— strip joints, gambling joints. It was a place where every hustler and pimp in New Orleans plied his trade. Oswald grew up, you know, in a community and environment of crime and corruption.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “Dear Sirs: I am 16 years of age and would like more information about your youth league.”
NARRATOR: His interest in socialism may have diverted Lee from the vices in his neighborhood.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “I am a Marxist and have been studying socialist principles for well over 15 months. I am very interested in your YPSL. Sincerely, Lee Oswald.”
NARRATOR: When he was 16, Lee joined the Civil Air Patrol, a youth auxiliary of the Air Force. Then just after his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the Marines. It was 1956, the height of the cold war.
EDWARD J.EPSTEIN: To him, the Marine Corps was a vehicle for escaping from all the things that were holding him down in his life. Look what he got as a Marine. He learned to use a rifle. He learned to travel. And he got away from his family.
NARRATOR: Oswald received extensive training in marksmanship. Some have claimed he was a poor shot, but military records indicates otherwise.
GERALD POSNER, Author, Case Closed: He shoots on the rifle range 212, which means he qualifies for the second highest position in the Marine Corps, that of a sharpshooter. Near the end of his stay in the Marines, in 1959, he went back to re-qualify himself on the range, still shot 191 and still qualified as a marksman.
NARRATOR: Oswald asked to be a radar controller. He received training, and then shipped out for what would be his first great foreign adventure, a posting at Atsugi, Japan.
EDWARD J.EPSTEIN: What he arrived at, at Atsugi Air Base in Japan, wasn’t simply an Air Force defense base. It was a CIA base, and the CIA program taking place at that base involved one of America’s most secret and important reconnaissance missions, the spy plane which became famous as the U-2 plane.
NARRATOR: Did Oswald develop ties to the CIA at Atsugi? There is no hard evidence. What is known is that he started to learn Russian and openly espoused the virtues of Marxism to fellow Marines.
OWEN DEJANOVICH, U.S. Marine: If you complained about, “Oh, we’ve got to go on a march this morning” or “We’ve got to do this this morning,” scrub barracks or whatever we had to do— if you were complaining about it, he would— he would say that that was the capitalist form of government making us do these things. Karl Marx and his form of government would alleviate that.
NARRATOR: Even though he was nicknamed “Osvaldovich,” no one investigated him or his political sympathies.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Committee: This man was a man with a security clearance. This man was a man who had access to highly sophisticated materials, and he is now showing an interest in Marxism. In retrospect, I think that what this indicates — and this was the judgment of the committee — is that our own people aren’t as efficient as we might think they ought to be, that more often than not, it’s Keystone Kops, you know, and not stainless-steel efficiency.
NARRATOR: Oswald found himself at odds with the Marine code of discipline. Possession of an illegal pistol earned him a court-martial and a long stint of KP duty.
Angry and resentful, he challenged the sergeant who had busted him to a fight. Court-martialed for a second time, he was sent to the brig. He applied for an early discharge and a passport. He was secretly planning to go to Russia.
EDWARD J.EPSTEIN: Oswald didn’t defect to the Soviet Union on a sudden impulse. We know that. This was well planned. And the question is, could Oswald have planned this alone or did he have help?
NARRATOR: Oswald’s defection meant travelling from New Orleans to France, England and Finland. From there, on October 15th, 1959, he boarded the train for Moscow. Where did he get the money for his travels? He later claimed he had saved over $1,000 while in the Marines, but records show he had only $200 in his bank account.
As a deluxe-class tourist, Oswald had his own Intourist guide, Rimma Shirokova.
RIMMA SHIROKOVA, Tour Guide: I took him for an excursion around the city. We went to the most important sights of Moscow, such as Tretyakov Art Gallery, the cathedrals and the treasury of the Moscow Kremlin.
NARRATOR: But Oswald seemed uninterested in the sights. On their second day, he told Rimma his real reason for coming— he wanted to defect.
RIMMA SHIROKOVA: I was shocked. And I asked his motives, his reasons, and he said that it was his political views. He said that he was a communist. He doesn’t approve of the American way of life.
NARRATOR: With Rimma as their go-between, the KGB considered Oswald’s request to stay in Russia. Vladimir Semichastny, a former head of the KGB, who reviewed Oswald’s case, explains why the KGB rejected Oswald.
VLADIMIR SEMICHASTNY, KGB: [through interpreter] When he came to us and began to ask for asylum here so insistently, the first reaction was to refuse and not to give him permission to stay in the Soviet Union, let alone to give him political asylum.
NARRATOR: Oswald recorded his despair in what he called his “historic” diary
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “I must leave country tonight at 8:00 PM, as visa expires. I am shocked. My dreams! I retire to my room.”
RIMMA SHIROKOVA: That same afternoon, we were to meet downstairs, as usual. Some time passed, but he didn’t appear. Certainly, I was nervous and wanted to know what had happened, so that’s why I rushed upstairs. I knocked at the door, but there was no answer.
NARRATOR: Hotel security men finally broke down the door.
RIMMA SHIROKOVA: We all tumbled in the room, and behind the shoulders of the two men, I saw Lee in the bath. It was water there and it was reddish, so it was blood. Lee cut his wrist.
NARRATOR: Oswald was rushed unconscious to Botkin Hospital. His wounds were quickly stitched up and bandaged. He was then transferred to the psychiatric ward. Dr. Lydia Mikhailina was on duty when Lee arrived.
Dr.LYDIA MIKHAILINA: [through interpreter] It was my impression immediately that this was a sure suicide attempt, since he was refused political asylum which he had been demanding, and he tried to obtain permission to stay in the Soviet Union by inflicting the wounds.
NARRATOR: After seven days, Oswald was ready to be discharged. But then the KGB called the hospital, telling them to hold him until they arrived.
Dr.LYDIA MIKHAILINA: [through interpreter] Sometime later, about 40 minutes, a large black car arrived and three young men came in. They confiscated his medical history, his discharge paper and all his documents, and then they told me they were taking him away.
NARRATOR: The KGB wanted to see if Oswald could be useful to them.
VLADIMIR SEMICHASTNY: [through interpreter] Counterintelligence and intelligence, they both looked him over to see what he was capable of. But unfortunately, neither could find any ability at all.
NARRATOR: Oswald was moved to a hotel while the KGB considered his fate. After three days, he decided he’d had enough.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “It seems like three years. I must have some sort of a showdown.”
NARRATOR: On October 31st, he went to the U.S. embassy and demanded to see the consul, Richard Snyder.
RICHARD SNYDER, U.S. Consul: He put a piece of paper on my desk. It said, “I have come to revoke my American citizenship. I have applied for Soviet citizenship.” He also volunteered the information that he’d been— while in the Marines, he’d been a— a radar technician, and that when he became a Soviet citizen, he intended to offer to the Soviet authorities everything that he had learned.
NARRATOR: Snyder reported Oswald’s threat to Washington, and the Marines changed their radar codes. But the KGB says it was unimpressed by the military intelligence Oswald was sharing with them.
VLADIMIR SEMICHASTNY: [through interpreter] There were conversations, but this was such outdated information, the kind we say the sparrows have already chirped to the entire world, and now Oswald tells us about it. Not the kind of information that would interest such a high-level organization like ours.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, word of Oswald’s suicide attempt had reached the top levels of the Kremlin. Yekatrina Furtseva — seated just behind Nikita Khrushchev — was the highest-ranking woman in the Politburo. Furtseva became Oswald’s champion and demanded the KGB reverse its decision and allow him to stay.
VLADIMIR SEMICHASTNY: [through interpreter] If he is begging, to hell with him. Let him stay here in order to avoid an international scandal on account of such a nobody. We were not convinced this would be his last act of blackmail. We expected he would try again, which would be difficult to deal with in Moscow, so we decided to send him to Minsk.
NARRATOR: In January 1960, Oswald moved to Minsk. He now had the chance to become what he had always wanted to be, a model young Marxist. Soviet authorities set him up in style. Despite a chronic housing shortage, he was given a choice apartment, a luxury unheard of for a young bachelor.
At the Minsk radio and television factory, Oswald helped to build prototypes of new models. As in the Marines, he got off to a good start. Leonid Tsagoika worked with Oswald.
LEONID TSAGOIKA: [through interpreter] When he started work after his training, he joined the team. He fit in well and worked well, too.
NARRATOR: Oswald also befriended some college students interested in learning English. He became fast friends with Ernst Titovets. Titovets made tape recordings of Oswald to study his Southern accent.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: The door of Henry’s lunch counter opened and two men came in. They sat down at the counter. “What’s yours,” George asked them.
ERNST TITOVETS, Friend: I gave him rather chance pieces to read and those happened to be, well, Shakespeare, from Othello, Ernest Hemingway.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: The two men at the counter read the menu. From the other end of the counter—
NARRATOR: Titovets also interviewed Oswald in mock dialogues. In one interview, Lee played the part of a killer.
ERNST TITOVETS: Will you tell us about your last killing?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Well, it was a young girl under a bridge. She came in carrying a loaf of bread, and I just cut her throat from ear to ear.
ERNST TITOVETS: What for?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Well, I wanted the loaf of bread, of course. [laughter]
ERNST TITOVETS: We were just having a great time, and actually, we were laughing our heads off.
NARRATOR: The KGB was keeping Oswald under constant surveillance and had co-opted most of the people he met, including his best friend, Pavel Golovachev.
PAVEL GOLOVACHEV, Friend: [through interpreter] I was met by one of their people, and it was like this. He said, “Your country asks you— your country demands. There is a foreigner here. It’s in the country’s interests for security,” and so on. That was early on, but I told him about it a year later. I had three or four meetings with the KGB people. They gave me little assignments to provoke him, saying, “Try this out on him and see what he says.”
NARRATOR: By January 1961, Oswald was becoming disillusioned with life in the Soviet Union.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “The work is drab. The money I get has nowhere to be spent. As my Russian improves, I become increasingly conscious of just what sort of a society I live in.”
PAVEL GOLOVACHEV: [through interpreter] He had become disillusioned with life here. He came here after reading a lot of Marx and Lenin, thinking that it was something good. But living here, he realized it was not so good.
NARRATOR: Then one night, at a dance in the Palace of Culture, a friend introduced him to Marina Prusakova.
YURI MEREZHINSKY, Friend: [through interpreter] She was a very attractive lady. She dressed well. We went up to her with Lee Harvey Oswald, and he said straight away that he would like to get to know her. We were standing right here, beside that column. Of course, he fell in love with her straight away, at first sight, as we say in Russia.
NARRATOR: Marina Oswald declined to be interviewed for this program, but she did talk to writer Priscilla McMillan. McMillan befriended Marina after the assassination and wrote an intimate portrait of the Oswalds’ life together.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN, Author, Marina & Lee: Marina liked Lee for several reasons. One was that he was polite. She liked his being foreign. She thought that an American would treat her better than a Russian.
NARRATOR: Six weeks after they met, a hasty wedding party was arranged at the home of Marina’s uncle. But the KGB was bugging their apartment and monitoring everything that went on inside.
VACHESLAV NIKONOV, KGB: They married, and they had a girl very soon. I don’t think they were the happiest family in the world. They had a lot of quarrels all the time and there were also some fights.
NARRATOR: Despite their quarrels, Lee and Marina planned to return to the U.S. with their daughter, June. But it took 18 months until Soviet and U.S. authorities finally granted them permission to leave.
VLADIMIR SEMICHASTNY, KGB: [through interpreter] We concluded that he was not working for American intelligence. His intellectual training, experience and capabilities were such that it would not show the FBI and the CIA in a good light if they used people like him.
NARRATOR: Oswald’s two-and-a-half-year Russian journey was over. On June 2nd, 1962, Lee, Marina and June left for America. Oswald assumed the press would flock to hear his story.
ROBERT OSWALD, Brother: He had prepared answers and statements, anticipating reporters either at the ship or some place down the line on the return. And I think he was surprised when he stepped off the plane in Dallas Love Field. He asked me, “What, no reporters?” And I said, “Yes, I’ve managed to keep it quiet,” and that was it. But I think he was disappointed.
[www.pbs.org: More from Robert Oswald]
NARRATOR: Lee moved back in with his brother, Robert, in Fort Worth. Soon after, the FBI interviewed him about his time in the Soviet Union.
JAMES P. HOSTY, FBI: Oswald appeared at the Fort Worth resident agency and was interviewed by two agents who happened to be in the office. This interview did not turn out to be too successful because Oswald was in an aggressive, surly mood, and they finally broke the interview off after a little while.
ROBERT OSWALD: He said, “They even asked me,” you know, “if I’d ever been an agent of the federal government, of the CIA.” He says, “Well, don’t you know?” And he just laughed. He was toying with them. And he toyed with people like that.
NARRATOR: Officially, the FBI was the only agency that questioned Oswald. It remains a mystery why the CIA, which had a growing file on Oswald, maintained it never talked to him.
RICHARD HELMS, Director, CIA, 1966-73: The FBI would certainly interview him for counter-espionage purposes and to try and find out whether the KGB had recruited him, whether he was going to be somebody that they had to continue to watch, what his motives were, and all the rest of those things. And it was the FBI’s responsibility, and if they interviewed him once or twice, that would seem to me to have been adequate.
FRONTLINE RESEARCHER: This is that missing document, the internal document note of September 28th—
NARRATOR: FRONTLINE researchers pored through Oswald’s partially declassified CIA file at the National Archives.
JOHN M. NEWMAN: And one day, I picked up a piece of paper and turned it over, and I could see through the back. I could read handwriting that said, “Andy Anderson 00 on Oswald.” Later on, we found out that “00” really is the symbol, the office symbol, for the domestic contacts division, which would have had the debriefing mission on Oswald, had there been one.
RICHARD HELMS: I know of no contact that was made by CIA with Oswald when he returned to the United States. There may have been one, but I’m not aware of it and I’m not able to shed any light on who it would have been.
INTERVIEWER: And this document doesn’t change your mind.
RICHARD HELMS: And that document doesn’t change my mind in the slightest.
NARRATOR: FRONTLINE interviewed over 30 CIA officers off the record. One high-ranking agent confirmed that the CIA had debriefed Oswald. But, he said, it was just a routine contact. It is still unclear why the CIA covered up its routine debriefing of Oswald or why the agency still withholds hundreds of files on him.
In the autumn of 1962, Lee and Marina moved from Fort Worth to Dallas. That Thanksgiving, the Oswald family gathered at Robert’s house.
ROBERT OSWALD: Thanksgiving Day, November 22nd, 1962, we were all having a pleasant holiday atmosphere. Everybody’s getting along fine. And Lee didn’t seem under any particular strain, no indication of any particular problems.
NARRATOR: But behind the facade, Lee was beginning to lose control. He was picking fights at work and at home.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN, Author, Marina & Lee: Lee became more and more tense and he began to hit Marina, something he had never done before. And by the winter, he hit her more and more frequently, and harder.
NARRATOR: Oswald had found a job in a photo lab. He put his newfound skills to use forging a new identity in the name of Alek J. Hidell. Away from his family, he was beginning to construct a secret life. He opened a Post Office box to receive mail for himself and Hidell.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN: Lee began to receive publications that he did not want to get at home. They were The Worker, the newspaper of the American Communist Party, The Militant, newspaper of the Socialist Workers Party.
NARRATOR: The left-wing press embraced the issues that mattered to Oswald— the campaign for civil rights in the U.S. and Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. But Oswald longed to be more than an armchair revolutionary.
At a party in February 1963, Oswald was introduced to oil geologist Volkmar Schmidt. The two hunkered down by a window to talk politics.
VOLKMAR SCHMIDT, Friend of Oswald: I mentioned General Walker, who deserved criticism because he was a racist retired general, ultra-right-wing, and who had just a few— a little time before talked to students at the University of Mississippi, who then got so agitated that they shot and killed some reporters.
NARRATOR: Violently opposed to the integration of African-American students in the University of Mississippi, General Walker had incited a 15-hour race riot. Walker was now embarked on a cross-country tour to rally support for the overthrow of Castro. Oswald saw Walker as an up and coming Hitler who had to be stopped.
VOLKMAR SCHMIDT: In hindsight, I probably may have given Lee Harvey Oswald the idea to go after General Walker. I certainly didn’t tell him to take the law in his own hand. Not at all. He may also have thought of General Walker independently.
NARRATOR: Using his alias, Lee had already ordered a .38 pistol through the mail. Now he ordered more firepower, a cheap Italian rifle. He apparently went on a reconnaissance mission to General Walker’s house and scouted the alley in the back.
Oswald drew up detailed plans for the assassination of General Walker. He photographed Walker’s house. He photographed the area where he would stash his rifle. He marked up maps and wrote statements of political purpose.
Lee’s guns finally arrived in the mail. A few days later, he surprised Marina while she was hanging up laundry in the back yard.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN: Dressed all in black, he was carrying his rifle, had his pistol at his waist. And she burst out laughing and asked him what on earth he was doing in that costume, and he told her she was to take a picture of him.
NARRATOR: The back yard photographs remain among the most incriminating and controversial evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Committee: Oswald himself, shown those photographs, denied that he owned a rifle and denied that this was him in it. He said his head was pasted on it. The critics of the Warren Commission seized on this.
NARRATOR: One of the best known critics is filmmaker Oliver Stone, whose movie JFK reflects the conspiracy view.
KEVIN COSTNER, as Jim Garrison: ["JFK"] Oswald was no angel. That’s clear. But who was he?
1st ACTOR: I’m lost, boss.
NARRATOR: Stone’s movie suggests the photographs were faked in order to frame Oswald.
KEVIN COSTNER: He was not a real defector, that he was an intelligence agent on some kind of mission for our government and remained one till the day he died.
1st ACTOR: The intelligence community murdered their own commander-in-chief?
2nd ACTOR: I never could figure out why this guy orders a traceable weapon to this Post Office box when he can go into any store in Texas, give a phony name and walk out with a rifle which can never be traced.
KEVIN COSTNER: To frame him, obviously.
3rd ACTOR: There’s a lot of smoke there, but there’s some fire.
1st ACTOR: We’re talking about our government here!
KEVIN COSTNER: No, we’re talking about a crime, Bill, pure and simple. Y’all better start thinking on a different level, like the CIA does. Now, we’re through the looking glass here, people. White is black and black is white. Just maybe Oswald was exactly what he said he was, a patsy.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: We took very seriously these charges. We had, first, the evidence examined by the Warren Commission. Marina testifies that she took it. She identifies the camera that she used. The FBI was able to, to the exclusion of all other cameras, tie that camera to these photographs.
Assuming that all that’s fake, we went further with a photographic panel and studied very carefully all of the testimony about the shadows being inappropriate. Our photographic panel indicated in great detail that these shadows were not inappropriate, that the critics had simply not understood optics, accordingly.
[www.pbs.org: Explore the "JFK" movie controversy]
NARRATOR: It emerged that Oswald gave a copy of the photograph to a friend. On the back, someone wrote in Russian “Hunter of fascists. Ha! Ha! Ha!” And Oswald himself signed it. The House committee’s experts concluded beyond a doubt the signature was his.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: Any notion that the photograph was faked by other people to frame Lee Harvey Oswald now has to explain the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald himself signed that photograph.
NARRATOR: On April 1st, 1963, Lee was fired from his job at the photo lab. No one knows where he spent his days. Marina says he spent a few evenings shooting target practice. On the night of April 10th, she says, he didn’t come home at all.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN, Author, “Marina & Lee”: At about 10:00, he still hadn’t come home. She was worried. She walked into a room, his study, which he told her never to enter, and there on his desk, she saw a sheet of paper with a key lying on top of it.
NARRATOR: Lee wrote to Marina in Russian.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “Here is the key to the Post Office box. You can throw out my clothing, but as for my personal papers, I prefer you keep them. I left you as much money as I could.”
PRISCILLA McMILLAN: He then explained where to find the jail. And she had no idea what he had gone to do and she was— started to shake all over.
NARRATOR: That evening, someone fired a single shot through the window of General Walker’s study.
Gen.EDWIN WALKER: Looking the situation over, back there, 40 steps behind me is a—
NARRATOR: General Walker lived to tell the tale.
Gen.EDWIN WALKER: A bullet crashed through the window and just missed me. And I felt much grit and dirt in my hair, and my arm was laying on the desk and it was bleeding in three places, which turned out to be fragments from the shell casing.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN: Later that night, about 11:30, Lee came in— white, covered with sweat and looking quite wild in the eyes. And he said, “I shot Walker.”
NARRATOR: The Walker case would not be resolved until after the Kennedy assassination, when Marina told her story and the Walker bullet was linked to Oswald’s ammunition. No co-conspirators were ever identified.
Two weeks later, on April 24th, 1963, Oswald abruptly left Dallas. In seven months, he would ride into the history books. But for now, he was headed for his home town, New Orleans.
RUTH PAINE, Friend: He said that he would call when he got a job. And he did, in fact, call in early May and talked to Marina, said he’d gotten a job, that he had a place for them to stay. Marina was elated, very happy as she hung up the phone and picked up Junie and said, “Papa nash lyubet”— “Father loves us.” And then we loaded up the car the next day and drove to New Orleans.
NARRATOR: By now, Oswald had found an apartment on Magazine Street.
RUTH PAINE: It looked all right. It had some old, antique kind of furniture in it, and that part was kind of nice. But by evening, it was very clear that it was also terribly infested with cockroaches. When they first went into the apartment, he really wanted her to be pleased and she wasn’t that pleased, and I felt his hurt in that.
NARRATOR: Oswald was about to enter the most mysterious chapter of his short life. New Orleans was seething with intrigue and paranoia, plot and counter-plot. The city had welcomed thousands of Cuban exiles who had fled Castro’s communism. These were the people whom Fidel Castro called “gusanos,” “the worms.” As in Miami, they were fervently anti-communist. In the swamps and bayous, violent paramilitary groups trained to overthrow Castro.
Pres. JOHN F. KENNEDY: I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana! [cheers and applause]
NARRATOR: But President Kennedy’s failure to topple Fidel Castro was eroding support for him in the Cuban exile community. The hard men in the paramilitary groups felt betrayed. In New Orleans, the Cuban enclaves burned with a murderous hatred for the president. In the summer of 1963, nothing could have been more provocative than Oswald’s open espousal of Castro’s cause.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: No, sir, I am not a communist. And I think that the—
NARRATOR: Oswald defended Castro on local radio and gave a television interview about his own Marxist beliefs.
REPORTER: And are you a Marxist?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Well, I have studied Marxist philosophy, yes, sir, and also other philosophers.
REPORTER: But are you a Marxist? I think you did admit that you consider yourself a Marxist.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Well, I would very definitely say that I— I am a Marxist. That is correct. But that does not mean, however, that I am a communist.
NARRATOR: In May 1963, Lee Oswald wrote to America’s leading pro-Castro group, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He was offering to start a chapter in New Orleans. The committee discouraged him, but he ignored their advice. From his home address, he designed pro-Castro leaflets and phony membership cards. Then he began handing out the leaflets on the streets of New Orleans. He continued to pretend he was more than just a one-man band.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD [as read by actor]: “We have had members in this area for several months now. We have decided to feel out the public, what they think of our organization, our aims. And for that purpose, we have been distributing literature on the street.”
NARRATOR: Oswald’s pro-Castro activities seemed genuine enough, but what happened next is a puzzle. In August, he approached the leader of an anti-Castro group named Carlos Bringuier.
CARLOS BRINGUIER, Anti-Castro Activist: When Oswald came to my store for the first time, he was explaining how he was against Castro and he was asking in what way he could help us to fight against Castro. He was telling me that he had been in the Marine Corps, that he had experience in guerrilla warfare and that he can help us in the guerrilla fight against Castro.
The second time that Oswald came to my store was when he brought this guidebook for Marines. He said that this was a present for me, to see if this could help me out to fight Castro.
NARRATOR: The manual showed how to make bombs, booby-traps and how to conduct sabotage operations. But a few days later, Carlos Bringuier found Oswald handing out pro-Castro leaflets on Canal Street.
CARLOS BRINGUIER: It was the same Oswald that has been in my store a few days before, offering his service to fight against Castro. And now he was with a sign, “Viva Fidel” and “Hands off Cuba.”
NARRATOR: Police were called to the scene, where an amateur moviemaker filmed the angry Cubans as they surrounded Oswald.
FRANK D. WILSON, Sr., New Orleans Police: When we got out of the vehicle and approached the crowd, there was about 8 or 10 Hispanic people that were taunting him, yelling at him, asking him to hand over the papers to them so they could dispose of them.
CARLOS BRINGUIER: At that time, I get angry and I was approaching Oswald, trying to punch him in the face. When he saw that I was approaching and he sensed my intention, he put his arm down and he said to me, “OK, Carlos. If you want to hit me, hit me.” Immediately, I realized that he wanted to appear as a victim, as a martyr.
NARRATOR: When one of the Cubans took the pro-Castro leaflets and threw them on the ground, the police arrested Oswald and eight Cubans for disturbing the peace. At the police station, Oswald’s conduct became even more mysterious.
FRANK D. WILSON, Sr.: We advised him that the booking procedure, which was a municipal misdemeanor, that he was eligible for posting a bond of $25 in cash or getting a politician to parole him. He said he didn’t— did not want either. He wanted to go to jail.
We also told him that part of the booking procedure would be that he would have to be photographed and fingerprinted, which he agreed to. He insisted, almost, that we fingerprint and photograph him. He seemed to want to let everyone know who he was and what he was doing. He could have avoided it very, very simply by saying, “Hey, here’s my $25. Let me go home.”
NARRATOR: What kind of double game was Oswald playing? One piece of evidence has continued to raise important questions about Oswald’s true attitude toward Cuba and whose side he was really on.
L.J. DELSA, New Orleans Police: The leaflets that Oswald hands out on Canal Street is pro-Castro leaflets, “Hands off Cuba,” telling the government to leave it alone, let it stay communist, let Castro alone. And the return addresses that are stamped on it is 544 Camp Street.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Committee: In that same building, there is a private detective agency by a man named Guy Banister, and Guy Banister is certainly not pro-Castro. He’s an ex-FBI agent from New York who is violently anti-Castro and working to overthrow Castro. If Lee Harvey Oswald is connected to Banister, then the pro-Castro activity seems to be a sham.
NARRATOR: Guy Banister was actively involved in the secret training of Cuban exiles. One of Banister’s comrades in the fight against Castro was a former airline pilot named David Ferrie, who had flown many dangerous missions over Cuba. And Ferrie apparently had an earlier link to Oswald.
In the 1950s, David Ferrie commanded a squadron in CAP, the Civil Air Patrol, but was suspended for indoctrinating the young cadets with his right-wing views. In the ‘50s, Lee Oswald was in the Civil Air Patrol and several fellow cadets said David Ferrie was one of Oswald’s instructors.
FRONTLINE uncovered the first hard evidence that places Oswald and Ferrie together— this photograph, taken in 1955 at a CAP barbecue.
John Ciravolo and Tony Atzenhoffer were in the CAP with Lee Oswald.
JOHN CIRAVOLO: This is several cadets, including Oswald on the end in the white T-shirt, myself standing in front of him. And over here in the white T-shirt and the helmet is Dave Ferrie.
TONY ATZENHOFFER: Because of all of the publicity, you can recognize Ferrie, you can recognize Oswald. They were both in the CAP at the same time. They were both wearing CAP uniforms.
NARRATOR: After the Kennedy assassination, David Ferrie denied that he ever knew Lee Oswald. But if David Ferrie was with Oswald in 1963, it could be significant because both Ferrie and Banister were also linked to another group which hated the president, organized crime.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: We took very seriously the possibility that organized crime had a hand in the president’s death. The FBI had an illegal electronic surveillance on the major figures of organized crime. We did a survey of that surveillance. What we did find, and shockingly, is repeated conversations by these people that indicated the depth of their hatred for Kennedy and actual discussions of, “He ought to be killed,” “He ought to be whacked.”
NARRATOR: No mobster hated the Kennedys more than Carlos Marcello. The Mafia chieftain of New Orleans was a prime target of the administration’s war on organized crime. In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the president’s brother, had personally ordered Marcello’s arrest and deportation. The godfather was infuriated.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: Carlos Marcello talks about getting— speaks in Sicilian— getting the “stone out of my shoe” and talking about getting a “nut” to kill not Bobby Kennedy, who was his nemesis, but John Kennedy, who was the man behind the nemesis.
NARRATOR: Marcello returned to New Orleans to fight the deportation order. His attorneys hired both Guy Banister and David Ferrie as investigators in the case. For Robert Blakey, who believes the Mafia was involved in the Kennedy assassination, this is the critical link.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: When you find David Ferrie, who is an investigator for Carlos Marcello, being a boyhood friend to Lee Harvey Oswald and with him that summer and with Carlos Marcello at that very point in time, you have an immediate connection between a man who had the motive, opportunity and means to kill Kennedy and the man who killed Kennedy.
[www.pbs.org: More of Blakey's interview]
ANTHONY SUMMERS, Author, Conspiracy: The shame of this thing is that the whole question of Oswald’s activity in New Orleans was never properly investigated by officialdom at the beginning. Guy Banister, the former FBI agent at 544 Camp Street, was never, ever asked by anybody about Lee Harvey Oswald. David Ferrie was questioned, but the investigation was dropped very quickly, and the names of neither Banister nor Ferrie are in the Warren report. It simply doesn’t mention either of them.
NARRATOR: If Oswald did have a secret connection to Ferrie and Banister in 1963, the nature of that relationship remains unclear. But in public, Oswald continued to demonstrate for Castro.
EDWARD J.EPSTEIN, Author, Legend: Well, I think if we take Oswald at the simplest level, what we see he’s trying to do is enhance his credentials as a supporter of Castro. One of the ways he’s trying to do this is actually work for Castro. Another way, he’s trying to find out information that would be of use to Castro. And the normal way you find out information is you join the enemy.
NARRATOR: In the summer of 1963, Oswald wrote an account of his political activity in New Orleans, describing himself as a Marxist, a street agitator and organizer who had infiltrated Carlos Bringuier’s anti-Castro organization.
By August, Oswald, who had concealed his defection to Russia, was attracting the attention of professional anti-communists.
INCA NARRATION: [television documentary] These are officials of INCA, the Information Council of the Americas, an organization which through its truth tapes and film productions reaches millions of people in the hemisphere. Ed Butler— as executive vice president, he is in charge of the INCA program and engages in direct personal conflict with communism.
NARRATOR: Butler and Bringuier were to confront Oswald at the studios of WDSU radio.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: And now back to “Conversation Carte Blanche.” Here again, Bill Slatter.
MODERATOR: Mr. Oswald, as you might imagine, is on the hot seat tonight, and I believe—
NARRATOR: After the Kennedy assassination, the debate was reenacted on film, using the original sound recording of Oswald’s voice.
MODERATOR: Are you or have you been a communist?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Well, I had answered that—
NARRATOR: Oswald seemed unaware that his opponents knew all about his defection to Russia. He was about to be exposed live on air.
MODERATOR: Mr. Butler brought some newspaper clippings to my attention. You did live in Russia for three years?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: That is correct, and I think those— the fact that I did live for a time in the Soviet Union gives me excellent qualifications to repudiate charges that Cuba and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee is communist-controlled.
EDWARD BUTLER, Exec. Dir., INCA: I think he was surprised, but again, he handled it, if you listen to the debate, very coolly. And it impeached his credibility, and yet he managed to turn it to his advantage, which is, I think— shows some aplomb, certainly a lot more than most people give him credit for.
CARLOS BRINGUIER: I would like to know if it is the Fair Play for Cuba Committee or Fair Play for Russia Committee?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Well, that is, of course, a very provocative question, and I don’t think it requires an answer.
ED BUTLER: Oh, I see. Well, would you say, then, that the Fair Play for Cuba Committee is not a communist front organization?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: We have been investigated from several points of view, that is, points of view of taxes, allegiance, subversion, and so forth. The findings have been, as I say, absolutely zero.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, I’m going to have to interrupt. Our time is almost up. Thank you very much, and good evening.
ED BUTLER: The last thing that I remember was Oswald taking out a notebook, glancing up at me and fixing me with a gaze of hatred and asking for my name and address and phone number and writing it down in the notebook, snapping it shut, looking up and giving me that Oswald sneer. I went one way and he went the other.
[www.pbs.org: Listen to the full radio debate]
MODERATOR: That you either are a communist or have been. Could you straighten out that point?
NARRATOR: The debate ended Oswald’s campaign for Castro on the streets of New Orleans, and he withdrew from the public stage.
MODERATOR: Are you a Marxist?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Yes, I am a Marxist.
NARRATOR: By now, he had been fired from three jobs in the past year. At his local library, he checked out books about the assassination of Huey Long, Mao Zedong’s revolution and John F. Kennedy.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN, Author, Marina & Lee: One evening, Marina came home about dusk, and she saw Lee on the screened-in porch. And he was perched on his knee with his rifle at his shoulder, and he was aiming it. She was extremely surprised at this. She hated to see him with the rifle again. But he continued to dry-fire the rifle for the last part of August and the first part of September.
NARRATOR: Marina says Lee told her he wanted to go fight for Castro, and he began hatching a scheme to hijack a plane to Havana.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN: He said that he would sit in the front row of the airplane cabin, she would sit in the back row with June, and at a certain point, he would put a gun in the back of the pilot of the aircraft. She would stand up and keep the entire passenger contingent at bay with a pistol and speak to them— and she would speak to the crowd and tell them to be quiet.
Marina laughed at him and said, “Well, but I don’t speak English. How am I going to explain to them?” Eventually, she laughed him out of the sky-jacking plan, and he came home one day and said, “Mama, I’ve found a legal way. I’ll go to Mexico.”
[www.pbs.org: More from Priscilla McMillan ]
NARRATOR: On September 25th, Oswald disappeared from New Orleans. He is next seen the following day, alone on a bus, heading south from Laredo. On the bus were two young Australian women.
PATRICIA WINSTON: It was on the bus to Mexico City that we encountered Lee Oswald. He heard us speaking English and wanted to talk to us, and so we talked about our travels and he told us that he’d been to Russia. He went, then, and got his passport and showed us the Russian stamp on his passport.
NARRATOR: In Mexico City, Oswald checked into a cheap hotel near the bus station. He had brought the file on his political activity in New Orleans. It detailed the leafleting, his arrest and his appearances on radio and television. He described himself as a Marxist political organizer and street agitator who had infiltrated anti-Castro groups.
That same day, Oswald went to the Cuban consulate. Here he met Sylvia Duran.
SYLVIA DURAN, Cuban Consulate: Well, it was near lunch hour, and he came and he asked for an application for going to Cuba. But I remember that he was traveling with all his papers that demonstrate that he was a friend of the Cuban revolution. And he showed me his card belonging to the Fair Play for Cuba.
NARRATOR: Duran told him he could only enter Cuba on a temporary visa and only if he was in transit to Russia. So Oswald walked the short distance to the Soviet diplomatic compound.
At the Soviet embassy, he met with three consular officials. In fact, all three were KGB officers working under diplomatic cover. In this, their first interview, they recall that Oswald’s hands were shaking and his behavior was erratic.
OLEG NECHIPORENKO, KGB: [through interpreter] We all thought the man had an unstable nervous system. He was extremely agitated.
VALERY KOSTIKOV, KGB: [through interpreter] During our talk, Oswald kept feeling in his pockets, taking out all sorts of papers. Then he took out a gun and put it in front of him. I sat opposite him. I took the gun away and put it on Pavel’s desk.
Pavel Antonovich asked him, “Why did you come here with a gun? What do you need a gun for?” He said, “I’m afraid of the FBI. I’m being persecuted. I need a gun to protect myself, for my personal safety.” That’s what he said.
NARRATOR: Oswald was told it would take several months to get a Soviet visa, but without one, he would be unable to go to Cuba. Oswald took the news badly.
SYLVIA DURAN: Well, then I explain. And then he got, in that moment— he couldn’t believe what I was saying. And he said, “But that’s impossible. I have to go to Cuba right now because I don’t— I only have a permission of three or four days in Mexico City, so I have to go.”
I thought that in a moment, he will be crying because his eyes— he was very excited. He was very red, and his eyes is like with— well, with bright, shining, like he was in tears or— and he didn’t want to understand. And so I called the consul, Azque.
NARRATOR: Duran says Oswald lost his temper with Consul Azque.
SYLVIA DURAN: Then Azque says, “Listen, get out. Get out.” And he went to the door, that it was locked. He open and said, “Get out. And if I see you again, if you come again, I want to kick you out.”
NARRATOR: As he left the embassy, Oswald should have been observed by CIA operatives. From houses across the street, the CIA was maintaining non-stop photo surveillance on the Russians and Cubans. Yet the CIA claimed it failed to take one single photograph of Oswald.
After the Kennedy assassination, the CIA first said that this man photographed leaving the Russian embassy was Oswald. This has fueled speculation that Oswald never went to Mexico, and that he may have been impersonated by an impostor like the man in the CIA photograph.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Committee: The suspicion was that Oswald didn’t make it at all, that there was an impostor attempting to frame him in Mexico City. Had that been established, it would indicate a sophisticated effort to frame Oswald, which would immediately draw attention to American intelligence.
RICHARD HELMS, Former Director CIA: It’s my recollection that at the time of Oswald’s presence in Mexico City, there was something wrong with some of the cameras we were using and we were trying to fix it. But the fact remains that there are no photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald taken while he was in Mexico City at that time, and I can’t explain 100 percent why not.
NARRATOR: But the declassified report on Oswald’s Mexico City trip written by the House Assassinations Committee tells a different story.
ANTHONY SUMMERS, Author, Not in Your Lifetime: And we now find that there were several former CIA officers who said that there had been such a photograph. One of them said that he’d seen it and described it in detail, a profile shot of Oswald at the gate, another one taken from behind as he went in.
NARRATOR: And the CIA station chief in Mexico City, the late Win Scott, in his memoirs also said the CIA took pictures of Oswald.
WIN SCOTT MEMOIRS: “Persons watching these embassies photographed Oswald as he entered and left and clocked the time spent on each visit.”
RICHARD HELMS, Former Director CIA: That’s fine for Win Scott to say, but he has no evidence to demonstrate it and he couldn’t produce the photograph. So what is he talking about?
NARRATOR: The CIA did confirm it destroyed wiretapped recordings of Oswald in Mexico City.
RICHARD HELMS: Just in the normal course of business, that after the tapes had been transcribed and the material was put on paper, then the tapes were routinely erased and used again.
NARRATOR: But again, this claim is contradicted. A high-ranking CIA officer in the Mexico City embassy told FRONTLINE the Oswald tapes existed months after the assassination, when they were played for the Warren Commission lawyers.
W. DAVID SLAWSON, Warren Commission Counsel: My best recollection is they offered to us to listen— they said to us— it was Win Scott that— “Would you like to listen to the tapes?” And so they played a little bit of it for us.
NARRATOR: The tape was poor quality, but its mere existence was significant.
W. DAVID SLAWSON: Now, even that, just one not having been destroyed, would show that Mr. Helms’s statement was incorrect.
ANTHONY SUMMERS: Where, then, are the tapes? And the question that arises here is why is the CIA reluctant for us to see the photographs and reluctant for us to see the tapes— to hear the tapes of Oswald’s voice? While they refuse to come clean, clearly, there’s going to be a suspicion that the tapes or the photographs don’t show what one would expect them to.
[www.pbs.org: An intelligence cover-up?]
NARRATOR: But there is much evidence that the real Oswald was in Mexico City. At the Soviet embassy, all three KGB officers told FRONTLINE the man they met was the real Lee Harvey Oswald, not the man in the photograph the CIA released.
VALERY KOSTIKOV, KGB: [through interpreter] No, this is a completely different person. The Oswald who had visited our embassy and whose photographs I saw in many newspapers and on TV was completely different.
SYLVIA DURAN: The day after the assassination, in the Mexican newspapers were a photo of Oswald, and I said to my husband, “I’m sure that this is the man who went to us for a visa.” So I went to the embassy and I look up the applications, and I saw his application and it was the same one.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: We obtained from the Cuban officials the visa application, with his photograph on it and his signature. We verified that it was Oswald’s signature. Oswald, therefore, was in Mexico City.
NARRATOR: And records at the Hotel Comercio show the real Oswald was here, too. The handwriting on the register is his.
Oswald stayed in Mexico City four days. But in the end, both the Russians and the Cubans rejected him. All his plans to fight for Castro and return to Russia had come to nothing. He had nowhere to go but back to America. In the early hours of an October morning, Oswald boarded a bus heading north. Next day, he crossed the U.S. border.
On October 3rd, 1963, seven weeks before President Kennedy’s fatal motorcade through Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald returned to the city. With no place to call his own, he checked into the YMCA for a few days. He had no job and no means to support his family. His wife, Marina, and his daughter, June, were living with their friend, Ruth Paine, in the Dallas suburb of Irving. Marina was expecting their second child.
RUTH PAINE: Soon after Lee came back to Texas— it was perhaps a week later— I was having coffee with Marina at a neighbor’s house, and we were talking about the fact that Lee hadn’t been able to get a job and he was looking for work and needed work. And another neighbor there said that her brother worked at the Texas School Book Depository and she thought that they were still hiring people. So I called the School Book Depository to see whether there might be an opening there.
NARRATOR: There was an opening, and Oswald was hired as a warehouse clerk to fill orders for textbooks. The job paid only $1.25 an hour, but Lee liked the idea he would be working with books.
RUTH PAINE: He came out each weekend. He and Marina did argue a good bit, and I was somewhat impatient with him. She was saying, “You see? He doesn’t love me.” All the time I knew her, she was worried about whether he loved her or not.
MICHAEL PAINE, Friend: Well, he came out on weekends. I remember stepping over him one time as he was watching TV, watching a football game with his chin in his hands there, and thinking, “What a fine little revolutionary we have here, being snookered into the new opiate of the people, football.”
NARRATOR: Michael Paine and Lee would talk politics on the weekends.
MICHAEL PAINE: He thought capitalism was rotten, it was a fraud and it needed to be overthrown. Lee wanted to be an active guerrilla in the effort to bring about a new world order. We discovered we were both interested in the activities of right-wing groups in Dallas, which were common, numerous at that time. And I think he described his activities as spying on them.
NARRATOR: Oswald told Paine he had gone to a right-wing rally to hear General Edwin Walker, the same man he had tried to assassinate a few months earlier.
MICHAEL PAINE: There was no doubt in my mind that he believed violence was the— was the only effective tool. He didn’t want to mess around with trying to change the system.
NARRATOR: During the week, after work, he’d ride the bus home to a rooming house in the Oak Ridge neighborhood. But Oswald was behaving strangely. At the rooming house, he kept making calls from the pay phone across the street. Then on Sunday, five days before the assassination, Ruth Paine tried to call him at the rooming house.
RUTH PAINE: And I dialed the number, asked for Lee Oswald and was told, “No Lee Oswald lives here.” And so I checked, “Is this the number?” Yes, it was. And I really hung up in confusion and told Marina what had happened.
Then the next day, when Lee called, as he normally did in the evening after work, Marina said we had tried to reach him and that there was no one of that name there, and he bawled her out for trying to reach him. When she hung up, she was very distressed, said that he was using an assumed name, and he’s done this before and he lives in this fantasy and he has this idea about being a great man. And she was very worried about him, worried about his mental state, as I understood it from her.
NARRATOR: On Wednesday evening, two days before the assassination, one of the boarders at the rooming house recalls Oswald intently watching a TV news story about President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas.
That week, Dallas newspapers published more details, including maps of the motorcade route. The White House party would fly into Dallas and drive through the city. The planned route would take the motorcade into Dealey Plaza and right by the Texas School Book Depository.
After work on Thursday, Oswald asked a co-worker to give him a lift to Irving.
RUTH PAINE: Thursday, which was the night before the assassination, I came home from grocery shopping and Lee was outside in the yard. I was surprised because it was the only time he came without asking.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN, Author, Marina & Lee: And Marina thought he’d come to make up with her after a fight they’d had. He tried to kiss her. She didn’t let him. And he said to her that she was getting spoiled living with Americans. And early that evening, he asked her on three separate occasions to join him in Dallas, and if she would, he would get an apartment the next day.
NARRATOR: Marina was still angry and she said no. Some time that evening, Oswald entered the garage, where he kept his rifle.
RUTH PAINE: I went into the garage and the light was on, which surprised me because I knew Marina was pretty careful turning the light out when she went in the garage for anything. And I hadn’t been in the garage, so I assumed that Lee had been in there and forgotten to turn the light out.
NARRATOR: Lee woke up early the next morning. Marina was still sleeping. He made his own coffee. Then he kissed his children and told Marina good-bye.
PRISCILLA McMILLAN: Later, she found what he’d left on the bureau. It was $170, and she thought to herself that must be everything Lee had. And she found something else. It was Lee’s wedding ring, and he left it in a little cup that her grandmother had given her.
NARRATOR: When Oswald left the house, he was carrying an oblong package wrapped in brown paper. He told the neighbor who gave him a ride to work that the package contained curtain rods for his room in Oak Cliff. Later that day, a long, empty brown bag would be found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository.
President Kennedy was up early that morning, as well. In Fort Worth, the crowds were friendly.
Pres. JOHN F. KENNEDY: —I said that— introduced myself in Paris by saying that I was the man who had accompanied Mrs. Kennedy to Paris. I’m getting that— somewhat that same sensation as I travel around Texas. [laughter and applause]
NARRATOR: In Dallas, Oswald’s co-workers were eagerly awaiting the motorcade.
HAROLD D. NORMAN, Co-Worker: We were looking out towards Elm Street. So he walked up and asked us, said, “What is everybody looking for? What’s everybody waiting on?” So we told him we was waiting on the president to come by. He put his hands in his pocket and laughed and walked away. So I don’t know where he went, or if he went upstairs or downstairs or where.
NARRATOR: Oswald rode the elevator up to the sixth floor, where he spent the morning filling book orders.
In Fort Worth, the president was headed to the airport for the short flight to Dallas. About 12:00 o’clock, Oswald’s co-workers went down to lunch. Oswald shouted for them to send the elevator back up.
By now, President Kennedy and his wife had landed at Love Field. The welcome was warm.
On the sixth floor of the depository, someone had screened off a corner window with boxes. Oswald’s prints would later be found on some of them, including the boxes arranged to support the sniper’s rifle.
Two witnesses spotted a man with a rifle at the sixth floor window. They assumed he was there to protect the president.
Oswald later claimed that at this time, he was eating lunch with two fellow workers, and had then gone to buy a Coke. But his co-workers denied having lunch with Oswald.
Some witnesses thought they saw two men on the sixth floor, evidence, if true, that there was a conspiracy to kill the president.
This film, shot by amateur cameraman Robert Hughes, shows the presidential motorcade approaching Dealey Plaza. Hughes stops filming for a few seconds, and then starts again just as the limousine passes in front of the depository.
FRONTLINE had this footage scientifically enhanced to see if a second man could be seen on the sixth floor.
FRANCIS CORBETT, Image Processing Analyst: On the Hughes film, there are a lot of things to see. And on the fifth floor in particular, we see an employee of the Book Depository raise his right arm, right there, as he waves to the motorcade passing just under the building.
Now we move to the sixth floor, and we observe in the arched window that is adjacent to the sniper’s nest a form that some people have said is human-like in appearance. And when we ran the enhanced film in motion, that human form disappears, and we conclude there is no human form in that window. We do also conclude that there is movement in the sixth floor corner window, indicating the presence of a person.
NARRATOR: Just seven seconds before the first shot is fired, something moves in the corner window. In the window below, Harold Norman raises his arm and waves to the president.
HAROLD D. NORMAN: We were sitting on the fifth floor, directly under the sixth floor windows. The shots came from above and there was a gun, and the shots were sounding, “Boom! Click, click. Boom! Click, click. Boom! Click, click.” So there was three shots fired right up over us when we were sitting on the fifth floor.
NARRATOR: Frame by frame, the tragedy unfolds in the 21 seconds of 8-millimeter film shot by Abraham Zapruder. As the motorcade rounds the corner, it slows. In the background, a little girl runs beside the limousine. Suddenly, there’s a gunshot. Governor Connally hears it and turns. The little girl stops dead and looks around.
Three seconds later, a second shot. A bullet has passed through the president’s throat. It hits Connally in the back and he starts falling.
Mrs. Kennedy turns to her husband. Something’s wrong. She looks into his face. The fatal head shot.
The exact number and timing of the shots have been argued over endlessly, but there is a growing consensus that the Zapruder film shows three shots were fired in about eight seconds.
Some believe a second gunman fired a fourth shot from the grassy knoll. Immediately after the shooting, many people followed a policeman up the embankment. But when police searched the area, they found no gunman, no gun, no cartridges.
REPORTER: And just now, we’ve received reports here at Parkland that—
NARRATOR: In the chaos and confusion of that day, many mistakes were made in the autopsy on Kennedy’s body. But the medical photographs and X-rays have confirmed that if there was a shot from the grassy knoll, it missed.
GERALD POSNER, Author, Case Closed: There were only two shots that struck President Kennedy. Both came from the rear. Four government investigations all came to the same conclusion— the Warren Commission in the ‘60s, in 1968, the Clark panel set by Attorney General Ramsey Clark, in the ‘70s, the Rockefeller Commission, and finally, in the late ‘70s, the House Select Committee, with the largest forensics panel re-examining the evidence.
NARRATOR: Computer modeling is a technique that was not available to earlier investigators. These three-dimensional graphics of Dealey Plaza were produced by a specialist company called Failure Analysis Associates on behalf of the American Bar Association. By feeding data into the computer, it is possible to model the trajectory of the so-called “magic bullet,” the second shot fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Critics say that unless it pursued a bizarre zigzag trajectory, it was impossible for one bullet to pass through both men.
GERALD POSNER: Four government commissions all concluded it was a straight line right through the two men. There’s no question that a single bullet could inflict all seven wounds on both the president and the governor and emerge in very good condition. As it slowed, as it moved through the two men, it moved fast enough to break bone, but not fast enough to deform the bullet.
The computer technicians used reverse projection to go from the wounds on Kennedy and Connally and determine where the assassin had to be located to inflict those wounds. And a cone is splayed out from the wound and shows that the only area almost centers on the southeast corner, sixth floor, Texas School Book Depository.
NARRATOR: And if the three shots were fired in eight seconds, this is the computer model of the sniper’s view.
After the third shot, someone saw the sniper slowly withdraw his rifle. Leaving three cartridges on the floor, he made his way to the stairs. The rifle, with one shell still in the breech, was later found behind some boxes.
Oswald was first seen 90 seconds later standing by the door of the lunchroom, looking calm. A policeman stopped him momentarily, but let him go. Within three minutes of the shooting, Oswald walked out the front door.
He boarded a bus, but jumped out and hailed a taxi when the bus got stuck in traffic. He asked the taxi to drop him a couple of blocks away from his rooming house in Oak Cliff. This is the room for which Oswald said he needed curtain rods. Oswald put a .38 revolver in his waistband, took a light, zippered jacket from his closet and left.
By now, the Texas School Book Depository had been sealed off and police had issued a description of a suspect in the assassination.
GERALD HILL, Dallas Police: A white male, brown hair, approximately 5-6 to 5-8, weighing 160 pounds, had been seen in the window of the depository and was believed to be the shooter.
NARRATOR: Gerald Hill helped search the Book Depository.
GERALD HILL: It was dirty. It was dusty. It had an old wooden floor. It was an ancient building. It had boxes of books stacked here and there. There was a shield of boxes that were stacked in such a way that anybody coming off of the elevator or coming out of the stairwell would not see anyone who was down in a firing position between the barricade and the window.
NARRATOR: They were still searching when the call came that there had been another shooting.
GERALD HILL: All we knew at that time was it was an officer had been shot, and they gave us a car number and we knew it was Tippit, based on the car number.
NARRATOR: Officer J.D. Tippit had been patrolling in Oak Cliff when he was gunned down, killed instantly next to his car. Of the seven eyewitnesses to the shooting, the one with probably the clearest view was Jack Tatum.
JACK TATUM, Eyewitness: I was preparing to turn left on 10th Street from Denver. I noticed an individual walking in my direction with a light, zippered jacket on, darker pants, and a squad car pulling over to the curb next to him.
As we— as I approached the squad car, I noticed that that individual was leaning over, talking to the officer. And he had both hands in the pockets of his jacket. I continued through the intersection, and about in the middle of the intersection, I heard three, maybe four shots.
NARRATOR: Researcher Dale Myers investigated the Tippit shooting.
DALE MEYERS: The killer gets to about this position on the sidewalk, and Tippit’s patrol car pulls to the curb and either calls him over to the curb or the man comes over by himself and leans through the window and talks to Tippit through the vent window for 10 or 20 seconds— very short.
And Tippit gets out of the patrol car, and as he does, the man steps over to the front of the hood here. And as Tippit gets opposite him, he pulls a gun from under the jacket, fires three shots across the hood, knocking Tippit to the pavement.
Then the man starts to leave, hesitates at the back of the car, walks around behind the car, comes up to the front of the car, stands over Tippit and shoots him in the head.
JACK TATUM: He then looked around, surveyed the situation, and started a slow run toward my direction. I put my car in gear and drove forward and watched him through the rear-view mirror. I saw him very clearly. And I realized that there was one thing that made him stand out and that was his mouth that curled up. I couldn’t mistake that.
INTERVIEWER: Kind of a— kind of a smile?
JACK TATUM: Yes. Kind of a smile. And I was within 10, 15 feet of that individual. And it was Lee Harvey Oswald.
DALE MYERS: Shortly after the shooting, several employees of a used car lot saw the killer come down this street. Ultimately, he came and he ducked behind this building, which used to be a Texaco service station. And in 1963, this was a parking lot. And they found a jacket under this car and it was a light gray, Eisenhower-type jacket, much like the one that Oswald was seen zipping up as he left his rooming house.
He’s next seen without the jacket, kind of slinking down Jefferson, ducking in and out of stores as police cars are roaring up and down with their sirens blaring.
NARRATOR: As the police cars sped by the Texas Movie Theater, the cashier stepped out of her ticket booth to see what was happening. As she did, a man slipped past her without buying a ticket. But someone saw him and called the police.
GERALD HILL, Dallas Police: And so we converged on that location, hit the balcony first— I did. Because there was only one light on in the theater, we opened the side door to get some more light.
NARRATOR: As policemen moved through the theater, Oswald tried to draw his revolver.
GERALD HILL: It took seven of us to put him on the floor and restrain him until we could put cuffs on him. Once we had the cuffs on him, he started hollering police brutality, “Is this America?” this kind of thing.
NARRATOR: Outside the movie house, an angry crowd jeered as Oswald was bundled into a police car.
GERALD HILL: Immediately, as we pulled away from the curb, we got on the radio and said we were coming back to the jail with our suspect. And the next thing that was asked was, “What’s your name?” And he wouldn’t tell us. And we asked him did he know why we had arrested him, and he said, “I haven’t done anything I should be ashamed of.”
He still refused to tell us who he was and we wanted to find out, so Officer Bentley reached in his hip pocket and pulled out his billfold, and here we had the dual identification. We had the Oswald and the Hidell identification.
NARRATOR: By now, police knew that Oswald was the only employee missing from the School Book Depository. His main interrogator would be the renowned homicide detective Captain Will Fritz.
1st REPORTER: Let’s keep it quiet, and we’ll all get it!
2nd REPORTER: Hold it down!
1st REPORTER: Has— has the gentleman been identified?
POLICE SPOKESMAN: Yes, sir. He’s been identified for killing the officer.
1st REPORTER: Right. Has any identification been attempted for the killing of the president?
POLICE SPOKESMAN: Not yet.
1st REPORTER: Not yet.
LONNIE HUDKINS, Reporter: I was in the hallway with all the other reporters when Fritz came out and asked me if I’d come in and sort of be the token reporter inside for a few minutes. And I went in to see Oswald. And I asked him about his eye, and he said that was when he was punched out and knocked down— you know, wrestled down.
The next question, “Why did you kill Officer Tippit?” And he threw the question right back at me. He said, “Someone got killed? A policeman got killed?” And at that time, he had this little smirk on him, and I wanted to hit him, but I didn’t.
Then all of a sudden, it dawned on me he wasn’t sweating, not a drop of sweat on him. He was calmer than all the people around him— Secret Service, police, FBI, district attorney. There was— everybody was in that office.
JAMES LEAVELLE, Dallas Police: While he didn’t admit anything and he didn’t confess to anything, he was the type of individual that you had to prove to him that we could make a case on him. And this is not unusual. This is very common among people that commits crime.
JAMES P. HOSTY, FBI: I don’t think he would have broken and confessed because I think he was playing a game. He had the impression that he was smarter than everybody else and was going to sit back there and play this for all it was worth.
NARRATOR: The case against Oswald was building. Police had recovered the rifle and the FBI had traced its purchase to an A. Hidell.
FBI SPOKESMAN: The return address on this order letter was to the Post Office box in Dallas, Texas, of our suspect, Oswald. But it has definitely been established by the FBI that the handwriting is the handwriting of Oswald.
JAMES LEAVELLE: He was asked if he had ever used the name of A. Hidell. He said no. And he was asked if he knew anybody by the name of A. Hidell, and he said no. And then he was asked, “Isn’t it true that when you was arrested, you had a picture ID on there with A. Hidell on it?” And he said, “I believe that’s correct.” And he was asked, “Well, how do you explain that?” And he says, “I don’t.” He just cut it off like that.
1st REPORTER: Here comes Oswald down the hall again.
2nd REPORTER: Did you buy that rifle?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: I don’t know what dispatches you people have been getting, but I emphatically deny these charges.
EDWARD J.EPSTEIN, Author, Legend: What Oswald’s interrogation shows is a very consistent pattern to hide a single fact through lies. That single fact was his ownership of the rifle. When he lied about the back yard photograph, it was to hide the fact that he had a rifle. When he lied that he had ever used the alias “Hidell,” it was to hide the fact that he had ordered the rifle.
You could go through the interrogation point by point and see that Oswald would be truthful up until it comes to the rifle. At the point of the rifle, he hides his ownership of it. Now, we’re talking about the assassination weapon, and lying consistently to hide that shows, in my opinion, a consciousness of guilt on Oswald’s part.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: I don’t know what this is all about.
1st REPORTER: Did you kill the president?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: No, sir, I didn’t. People keep— [crosstalk ] Sir?
1st REPORTER: Did you shoot the president?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: I work in that building.
1st REPORTER: Were you in the building at the time?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Naturally, if I work in that building, yes, sir.
2nd REPORTER: Back up, man!
3rd REPORTER: Come on, man!
4th REPORTER: Did you shoot the president?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: No. They’ve taken me in because of the fact that I lived in the Soviet Union. I’m just a patsy.
5th REPORTER: Did you shoot the president?
NARRATOR: Around midnight on November 22nd, Oswald was paraded in front of the press. He had just been charged with the murder of Officer Tippit and he was about to be charged with the assassination of President Kennedy.
1st REPORTER: Did you kill the president?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: No, I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about it was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question.
2nd REPORTER: Nobody’s said what?
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Sir?
2nd REPORTER: Nobody’s said what?
NARRATOR: At the back of the room that night was one man who was not a policeman or a reporter, a man who carried a gun and had underworld connections. His name was Jacob Rubenstein, known as Jack Ruby. In less than 36 hours, he would murder Lee Harvey Oswald.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Committee: If the Mob had a hand in the president’s death, and I think they did, and they induced Oswald to kill the president, it was terribly important that he be silenced because eventually, Oswald, if alive, would testify as to who his associates were, or they ran the risk that he would. And therefore, there’s every indication that Ruby stalked and killed Oswald in an effort to silence him.
NARRATOR: Jack Ruby was a police informer who owned a striptease club. He made sure that policemen who came to his club were shown a good time.
WALLY WESTON, Ruby Friend: What kind of a guy was Jack Ruby? Impulsive. He had a quick temper. That’s why they called him “Sparky.” Loved to fight. And if anybody was really out of line, he’d throw them out.
AL MADDOX, Dallas County Sheriff: If Jack Ruby knew that you were a law enforcement officer, they always had plenty of liquor, dancing girls, food or anything else because he always felt that we may be able to help him.
JOE CODY, Dallas Police: Yeah, he did give some free drinks around. And when folks from the police went down there, you know, he discounted the drinks for them. And he was a fighter. There was no question about that. And we’d get a disturbance call there down there, we’d just wait at the bottom of the stairs because in just a few minutes, that guy, or whoever was creating the disturbance, was going to come falling down the stairs.
NARRATOR: Ruby was also acquainted with leading figures in the Dallas underworld, including Sam and Joe Campisi.
JOE CODY: Yes, Jack knew the Campisis, and I’d seen them together on numerous occasions. Jack ate out there at the Egyptian Lounge, and he’d come in, they’d shake his hand and sit down. And sometimes Joe Campisi would sit with him. If I came in, you know, I’d sit with Jack Ruby and Joe Campisi. I knew— we all knew each other well.
NARRATOR: The Campisis were lieutenants of Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss who had reportedly talked of killing the president.
AL MADDOX: The Campisis did know Carlos Marcello because one day, I was in Joe Campisi’s office, and he called Carlos on the phone and I talked to Carlos on the phone.
NARRATOR: If Ruby was a hit man working for the Mafia, he had already missed one perfect opportunity to silence Oswald.
LONNIE HUDKINS, Reporter: And I asked him if he was packing a pistol at that midnight press conference, and he said yes. And I said, “Then why didn’t you plug him then?” And he says, “I was afraid of hitting one of you guys.”
NARRATOR: Ruby spent much of Saturday hanging around Dallas police headquarters. That day, Oswald was taken from his cell several times to be interrogated and made to stand in police line-ups. Ruby had no opportunity to shoot Oswald that day, but he was asking lots of questions about when the police would transfer him to the county jail.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: I’ve been photographed [unintelligible] fingerprints. Now they’re taking me for a line-up [unintelligible] picked out, right?
POLICE OFFICIAL: That’s right.
NARRATOR: If Ruby was stalking Oswald, Sunday morning would be his last chance. The police had announced Oswald would be transferred to the county jail at 10:00 AM. But at 10:00, Jack Ruby was still at home.
GERALD POSNER, Author, Case Closed: Jack Ruby takes over an hour-and-a-half to leave his apartment. He very leisurely goes to the Western Union office. He doesn’t appear to be rushed, says the clerk behind the counter. And he sends his $25 moneygram. He takes his change, and it’s time stamped at 11:17. Oswald is shot by Ruby four minutes later, at 11:21.
JAMES LEAVELLE, Dallas Police: I did a re-check on that myself, from the datestamp time of 11:17 on that telegram, and then it took roughly 83 seconds— because I walked at three different speeds, slow, fast and medium, and the average was 83 seconds— from the front door of the Western Union to the basement.
NARRATOR: It is still unclear whether Ruby slipped into the basement through an unlocked door or just walked down the ramp. Upstairs, Jim Leavelle was about to bring Oswald down in the elevator, more than an hour late.
JAMES LEAVELLE: Well, I had no idea when I was coming down in the elevator, and he certainly could not have. And there ain’t no way you could time that where he would be in the basement right at the exact moment that I came out of there. And he couldn’t have been there more than a minute— 45 seconds to a minute before I arrived with Oswald.
NARRATOR: Wearing a light-colored suit and a Stetson, Leavelle was Oswald’s escort.
JAMES LEAVELLE: I put the handcuffs on him. And in the process of doing that, I more in jest kind of said, “Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they’re as good a shot as you are,” meaning, of course, that they’d hit him and not me. And he kind of laughed and he said, “Oh, you’re being melodramatic,” or something to that effect. “Nobody’s going to shoot at me.” And so we walked out, and I was momentarily blinded by those lights. I couldn’t see anything.
REPORTER: He’s been shot!
JAMES LEAVELLE: Oswald just groaned when he was shot— just “Uhhh!”— and went down and that’s the only sound he made.
NARRATOR: As Ruby lunged forward and fired his gun, he yelled “You killed my president, you rat!” And later, as the police escort tackled him and led him away, “I’m happy that I got him.”
Was the shooting in the basement garage a carefully planned Mafia hit, or did “Sparky” Ruby shoot Oswald in a flash of violent rage?
JAMES LEAVELLE: I transferred Jack Ruby to the county jail, and when I asked him why he’d done the shooting, he said he’d thought about it from Friday night on. But a lot of people thought about it. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, if I could have got to him on Friday afternoon, my anger was such that I would have killed him without looking back.”
WALLY WESTON, Friend: I visited Jack in prison. The first thing he said— he was smiling at the time, you know, and he looked at me and he said, “I got balls, ain’t I, baby?” And I said, “Yeah, Jack, and they’re going to hang you by them, too.”
NARRATOR: Ruby would die in prison from natural causes. Oswald never regained consciousness after he was shot.
TOM PETIT, NBC News: Captain, where will he be taken?
POLICE OFFICER: I’m assuming Parkland Hospital.
TOM PETTIT: Parkland Hospital, the irony of ironies, the place where President John F. Kennedy died. The armored car now has been cleared out of the entranceway. The ambulance is leaving Dallas police headquarters.
JAMES LEAVELLE, Dallas Police: I was riding in the back with him and holding his hand, arm, trying to reach a pulse. The doctor was massaging his chest, trying to get him to breathe. And he— he groaned and stretched a little bit and then just went completely limp. And I actually— that’s when I think he expired, was then because I never saw him make another move at all.
NARRATOR: Oswald was pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital. His death meant the evidence against him would never be tested in court. But over the years, the strength of that case has continued to grow. Significant evidence may have been overlooked by all the official investigations.
Soon after the shots were fired, Dallas police dusted the murder weapon and found partial fingerprints near the trigger guard and a clear palm print on the barrel.
Amid decades of accusations that the police had planted the palm print on the rifle, the latent fingerprints on the trigger guard were largely ignored. But 30 years later, a complete set of the long forgotten photographs of the rifle and of the latent fingerprints came to light.
A former high-ranking FBI fingerprint expert who examined the prints for FRONTLINE said they were simply not clear enough to make any identification. But Vincent Scalice, the House Assassinations Committee expert, came to a very different conclusion.
VINCENT SCALICE, Fingerprint Expert: There were a total of four photographs in all. And I began to examine them and I saw two faint prints. And as I examined them, I realized that these prints had been taken at different exposures and it was necessary for me to utilize all of the photographs to compare against the ink prints.
As I examined them, I found that by maneuvering the photographs in different positions, I was able to pick up some details on one photograph and some details on another photograph. Using all of the photographs at different contrasts, I was able to find in the neighborhood of about 18 points of identity between the two prints.
Well, I feel that this is a major breakthrough in this investigation because we’re able for the first time to actually say that these are definitely the fingerprints of Lee Harvey Oswald and that they are on the rifle. There is no doubt about it
G. ROBERT BLAKEY, Chief Counsel, House Assassinations Committee: The prosecution case against Oswald is open and shut. If he’d shot his brother-in-law in the back seat of a convertible and not the president of the United States, he would have been tried, convicted and forgotten in three days. But for the fact that it’s the president, this is an easy case.
NARRATOR: Three days after the assassination, Washington and the world mourned President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In Dallas, the police honored Officer J.D. Tippit. And on that same day, in Fort Worth, the remains of Lee Harvey Oswald were laid to rest. But the questions about his role in the assassination have lived on for years.
G. ROBERT BLAKEY: The question is not, “Did Lee Harvey Oswald shoot the president?” The question is, “Did he have help?” Within 30 hours of the assassination, that was the question.
NARRATOR: John Kennedy had many enemies. The Mafia had called for his death. Many Cuban exiles celebrated it. Lee Harvey Oswald’s life may have intersected with those forces, but there is no hard evidence that in the last days in Dallas, they were influencing Oswald to act.
In the end, there is only Oswald, a man who chose his own politics, a man who invented his own secret life, a man whose real life never measured up to the scale of his dreams until the day the president of the United States passed right in front of him.
ROBERT OSWALD, Brother: This is a struggle that has gone on with me. This is mind over heart. The mind tells me one thing, the heart tells me something else.
True, no one saw him actually pull the trigger on the president, but his rifle’s there. His presence in the building was there. What he did after he left the building is known— bus ride, taxi ride, boarding house, pick up the pistol, shoot the police officer. Eyewitnesses there, five or six.
You can’t set that aside just because he is saying, “I am a patsy.” I’d love to do that, but you cannot, in my mind, set that aside.
It’s good that people raise questions and say, “Wait a minute. Let’s take a second look at this.” I think that’s great, you know? But when you take the second look and the third and the fortieth and the fiftieth— hey, enough’s enough. It’s there. Put it to rest.
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINEGunned Down: The Power of the NRAEncore PresentationAugust 4th
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2015 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.