Lee Harvey Oswald was the alleged sniper who assassinated 35th U.S. President John F. Kennedy. He was arrested after murdering a police officer an hour later. Two days later, he was murdered by Jack Ruby.
BackgroundOswald was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1939, to Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Sr., and Marguerite Frances Claverie; Robert, Sr., would die of a heart attack two months prior to Lee's birth. Oswald, his brother, and his half-brother spent a lot of their early years living in orphanages because Mrs. Oswald was financially unable to care for them. In the mid-1940s, the family moved to Dallas, Texas, where Oswald spent many of his formative years, and later to Fort Worth. In school, he had difficulties in math and spelling. He was later described unfavorably by people who had known him. At the age of 13, Oswald and his mother moved to New York to live with relatives, but Oswald became difficult to handle for those close to him. Because his mother worked long shifts, he spent much of his time in the library and skipped classes. Consequently, he was sent to be tested at a youth detention facility. The staff later described him as being maladjusted, emotionally detached, and deprived of any care from his mother. In 1954, the Oswalds moved back to New Orleans. The following year, at the age of 16, Oswald, then a sophomore, dropped out of high school. In 1956, a few weeks short of his seventeenth birthday, he wrote a letter to the Socialist Party of America stating his interest in joining their youth party. He claimed to have taken a great interest in socialism and to have spent a lot of time studying it, though a friend of his from that time, Edward Voebel, later told the Warren Commission that he was lying and that he actually mostly read cheap paperbacks.
At the age of 17, less than a week after his birthday, Oswald enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he qualified as a sharpshooter rifleman and spent much of his service time stationed aboard ships in the Far East. The year he joined, he was stationed at an Air Force defense base in Atsugi, Japan. While in the service, he spent his free time cultivating his interest in all things Russian; he read Russian literature, listened to Russian music, studied the Russian language, and even addressed his fellow soldiers as "comrades". He also openly supported communism and Marxism as well as Fidel Castro. In 1958, he was court-martialed in two related incidents. The first was when he shot himself with an illegally-possessed handgun and was put on kitchen duty. The second was when he assaulted the sergeant he thought was responsible for getting him there. Also, in a third incident, he was punished for firing his rifle into the jungle without warning while he was on sentry duty in the Philippines. During the time leading up to his discharge in 1959, Oswald made preparations to defect to the Soviet Union. First, he applied to a Swiss college. After getting his passport, he went to Helsinki, Finland, via England and France in order to get a Russian visa quickly. Almost immediately after getting to Moscow, he informed a tourist guide and various Soviet authorities that he was a communist and wanted to become a Russian citizen. The day his visa expired, he learned that his citizenship request had been denied. In his hotel room, he then slashed his wrist in an apparent suicide attempt. He was confined to a psychiatric hospital, where the authorities started taking his request to defect more seriously. After a series of dialogues between both Russian and American officials, Oswald was allowed to defect.In 1960, still being monitored by Soviet officials, Oswald obtained Russian citizenship and was relocated to Minsk, BSSR (present day Belarus), where he got a job at a radio and television factory. Despite his stated interest in Marxism, KGB officer Vachislav Nikonov later stated that Oswald never attended any Marxist classes or read any Marxist literature while he was there or even attended any labor union meetings. By February of 1961, he had become disenchanted with the Soviet society. In March, he met Marina Prusakova, a 19-year-old pharmacology student, at a dance event at the Palace of Culture. They were married six weeks later and had a daughter by the name of June in February of 1962. In the meantime, Oswald negotiated a return to the United States with his family. He wrote pleas for help to a number of U.S. officials, among them, ironically, the Governor of Texas, John Connally, whom he would later shoot. By October of 1962, Oswald and his family had moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where the marriage deteriorated and Oswald became abusive. They also came into contact with a number of Russian expatriates. At first, Oswald worked at a welding company, but he quit after a few months because he didn't like it. He was then hired as a trainee by a graphic-arts firm, but was fired after only one week. While his and Marina's relationship remained rocky, Oswald's interest in Marxism apparently reemerged as he started subscribing to Soviet periodicals and corresponding with American communist and socialist parties. In early 1963, he ordered a 6.5 mm Carcano bolt-action rifle, and later a snub-nosed S&W Model 10 "Victory" .38-caliber revolver by mail using the alias "Alek J. Hidell".
On April 10, 1963, the retired U.S. Army General Edwin Walker, a staunch anti-communist and segregationist who had been relieved of his command for giving his soldiers right-wing political literature, was fired at through his apartment window. The bullet struck the wooden frame, redirecting the bullet's path into Walker's arm; he survived the incident. According to the Warren Commission, Oswald was most likely the perpetrator of the attack, having done surveillance of Walker in advance. Also, friends of Oswald, including his wife, later told investigators that he strongly disliked the General and considered him the leader of a "fascist organization" (Walker was a member of the John Birch Society, a radical right-wing political advocacy group). The bullet that injured Walker was too damaged for a ballistic analysis, but a later neutron activation analysis strongly suggested that it was the same kind of ammunition used in the assassination of President Kennedy.In April of the same year, Oswald moved to New Orleans alone, having left his wife and child in the care of a friend. He briefly worked as a machine greaser at a coffee company, but was fired for doing his job in an unsatisfactory way. While living there, he made contact with the New York-based Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization, and tried to start a local chapter of the movement in New Orleans. In September, he went to Mexico, where he visited Cuban and Soviet embassies and tried to get a visa to Cuba, but was denied it. Afterwards, he returned to Dallas and learned that Marina was pregnant with their second child, a girl named Audrey. Through the referral of a friend, he got a job as a warehouse clerk at the Texas School Book Depository, from where he later fired at President Kennedy. On November 22, the day of the assassination, he left his home at 7:15 a.m., carrying a package wrapped in brown paper, leaving behind his wedding ring and $170 for his wife, although a friend and coworker of Oswald's, Wesley Frazier, reported that Oswald told him the bag contained curtain rods, while Oswald himself said that the package actually contained his lunch. The Warren Commission concluded that the package actually contained the rifle used by Oswald in the assassination.
The JFK Assassination
In the summer of 1963, the 35th President of the United States, Democrat John F. Kennedy, started planning an official visit to Texas in order to prepare for his 1964 reelection campaign and secure votes from the state, where his administration had almost lost in the 1960 election. The trip was planned for Dallas and was announced to the public in September. On November 19, the Dallas Times Herald published a detailed description of the travel plans, complete with the route the presidential motorcade would drive. On November 21, Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline "Jackie" Kennedy, his Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, their staff, and protective detail arrived in San Antonio, Texas. On the schedule for the day was a dedication speech at the Brooks Air Force Base and a testimonial dinner in Houston. The next day, November 22, they were scheduled to hold a luncheon speech at the Dallas Trade Mart. At 12:29 p.m., the presidential limo, a 1961 Lincoln Continental, which carried the First Couple, the Governor of Texas John Connally, his wife Nellie, and two Secret Service agents, William Greer and Roy Kellerman, made a 90-degree turn from Main Street onto Houston Street on Dealey Plaza and then another turn to the left onto Elm Street, which was seen from the Book Depository.At 12:30 p.m., as the motorcade drove down Elm Street, gunshots were suddenly fired. The majority of witnesses recalled hearing three shots fired within a few seconds. The first shot apparently missed. The second, however, hit the President in the "base of the neck", and exited through his throat, injuring Governor Connally. The third hit Kennedy in the upper right portion of his head, killing him instantly. The motorcade raced at full speed to the Parkland Hospital four miles away, but it was too late; at 1:00 p.m., he was pronounced dead. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was critically injured and had suffered a collapsed right lung, but he would survive. A civilian named James Tague was also injured, suffering a superficial wound to the cheek caused by a bullet or a bullet fragment.
Meanwhile, Oswald left the Book Depository within three minutes after the shooting and boarded a bus, but switched to a taxi when the bus got stuck in traffic and went to his rooming house in Oak Cliff. At 1:00 p.m., he went to his room, took his revolver and left. In the meantime, police, having been told by witnesses that shots were heard from the Book Depository when Kennedy was shot, raided the building. Near a window on the sixth floor they found three shell casings and the Carcano rifle used in the shooting. By 12:45 p.m., an eyewitness description of a man seen in the window at the time was out. It described the man as being white, slender, 165 pounds heavy, and c. 5' 10" tall. At 1:15 p.m., a patrolman, J.D. Tippit, spotted Oswald, who matched the description, near the 10th and Patton Streets, a few miles from Dealey Plaza. After they briefly spoke through the car window, Tippit exited the vehicle and apparently tried to talk to Oswald more up close. Then, in front of seven witnesses, Oswald pulled out his revolver from his belt and shot Tippit four times in the chest and ran. He slipped into a nearby movie theater without buying a ticket. After being tipped off, the police entered the building and arrested Oswald.Oswald was taken to the Dallas Police and Courts Building. At 7:10 p.m., he was arraigned for the murder of Officer Tippit. Six hours later, he was also charged with killing the President. Over the following two days, he was pressed on for answers by investigators for a total of twelve hours in one interrogation on Friday, and another three hours on the following Saturday, but Oswald repeatedly denied having committed either murder. When presented with photos taken by his wife of him holding the Carcano rifle said to have been used in the murder, he claimed they were fake. When asked whether he was a Communist, he said that he was not, going on to claim that he was a Marxist. On Sunday, not long before noon, Oswald was about to be transferred to the county jail. At 11:21 a.m., as he was being led through the basement of the Dallas Police Department headquarters, a nightclub operator named Jack Ruby suddenly stepped out of a crowd of reporters invited to broadcast the moment live and shot Oswald once in the abdomen with a .38 Colt revolver in front of countless witnesses. The bullet badly damaged several internal organs as well as his vena cava and aorta. Ruby was arrested immediately. At 1:07 p.m., Oswald died in Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same hospital where doctors tried to save Kennedy's life. He was buried in Fort Worth.
On November 29, one week after the assassination, Johnson, who was sworn in as President of the United States two hours after Kennedy was declared dead, established The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy to establish the exact circumstances of the events of November 22. Today, the commission is unofficially known as "The Warren Commission", named after its committee head, Chief Justice Earl Warren. Other members of the committee included Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA until 1961; John J. McCloy, the former president of the World Bank; two Senators, Richard Russell Jr. (D-Georgia) and John Sherman Cooper (R-Kentucky); and two Representatives, Hale Boggs (D-Louisiana) and future president Gerald Ford (R-Michigan). Its results were handed to Johnson in an 888-page report in September the following year and made public three days later. In summary, it concluded that Oswald was the sole perpetrator of the assassination of Kennedy and the murder of Patrolman Tippit.
Three other major investigations of the Kennedy assassination were done within the next few decades alone: a 1968 panel formed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark; the so-called Rockefeller Commission of 1975, which examined CIA activities in general; and, most notably, the 1976 United States House Select Committee on Assassinations, which took a close look at the JFK assassination as well as the murder of Martin Luther King and the attempted murder of Alabama Governor George Wallace. Regarding the Kennedy assassination, they, in a rather controversial act, came to the conclusion that his death was the result of a conspiracy, but were unable to link any suspected parties, such as the Cuban or Soviet governments or members of organized crime, to the act. Accusing the Warren Commission and the FBI of not doing their jobs adequately, they also concluded that there probably was a second gunman on the nearby grassy knoll who fired the first shot that missed, and Oswald had made the fatal shot, and that the President's security detail was to blame for the flawed security.
Another, more minor investigation was carried out by Jim Garrison, the district attorney of New Orleans at the time. His office's investigation began in 1966, three years after the assassination, after he received a tip that David Ferrie, a staunch anti-Communist, had been involved in planning the murder. In 1967, shortly after Ferrie died of an aneurysm, Garrison had Clay Shaw, a New Orleans businessman and alleged associate of Ferrie, arrested for for conspiracy to commit the murder. He brought Shaw to trial in 1969, the only occasion on which anyone was tried for the Kennedy assassination. Journalist David Phelan later wrote that Garrison had told him in an interview that the conspiracy was a "homosexual thrill killing" done for the excitement of getting away with murder. During the trial, Garrison's main witness, a 25-year-old insurance salesman named Perry Russo, identified Shaw as "Clay Bertrand", a man he had supposedly overheard planning the assassination with Ferrie and Oswald at a party for the local gay community. The testimony has been criticized by some historians due to having been produced through hypnotism and use of the "truth serum" sodium pentothal. In the end, the jury found Shaw not guilty after less than an hour of deliberation due to a lack of a real motive and evidence actually tying him to the crime. Garrison later wrote a book about his investigation and the trial titled On the Trail of the Assassins, which was one of the two books that served as the basis for Oliver Stone's controversial film JFK.
Later FatesDuring interrogations, Jack Ruby claimed to have killed Oswald in order to spare the First Lady the grief of seeing him during the trial. He was sentenced to death, but died of a pulmonary embolism and lung cancer on September 3 of 1967 at the same hospital at which Oswald died of his wounds and Kennedy was pronounced dead.
John Connally served as the Governor of Texas from 1963 to 1969. In 1971, he was appointed by President Nixon as Treasury Secretary even though they were members of different parties (Nixon was a Republican, Connally was a Democrat). The following year, he stepped down from the post to head "Democrats for Nixon", a campaign to promote support from Democrats in the 1972 election, which Nixon won. In 1973, a few months after Lyndon B. Johnson's death, he changed parties and became a Republican. During the 1980 presidential election, he ran in the Republican primaries, but lost to Ronald Reagan. Connally passed away in 1993 of pulmonary fibrosis.Lyndon B. Johnson served as President for the remainder of Kennedy's term. In the 1964 election, he ran as the Democratic candidate against Republican Barry Goldwater and won with 61.05% of the votes. His running mate was Hubert Humphrey, who ran for Presidency in the next election, but lost to Richard Nixon. During his own term as president, Johnson signed several landmark bills into law, among them the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed most forms of racial segregation, the Voting Rights Act, which allowed millions of blacks to vote for the first time, welfare programs such as Medicare and food stamps, and the Gun Control Act of 1968, but he was also responsible for escalating the conflict in Vietnam and sending in more troops. He passed away in 1973. John Connally delivered a eulogy at his funeral.
Jackie Kennedy remarried in 1968, five years after her husband's death. The groom was Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate. In 1975, she played an unwilling part in the publishing history of adult magazine Hustler when the magazine bought paparazzi photos of her nude by a swimming pool and published them in an issue. In the years between Onassis' death the same year and her own death, she worked as a book editor at Viking Press and Doubleday and was engaged in charity work to protect America's cultural heritage. She passed away due to cancer in 1994.
The Kennedy assassination has become one of the most fertile growing grounds for conspiracy theories in recent history. Some accuse Lyndon B. Johnson of having been involved in the crime somehow and possibly even masterminding it because he was afraid of being dropped from the Democratic ticket in the next Presidential election. Other theories make similar accusations against the then-Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, because of his difficult relationship with the Kennedys, especially with Kennedy's brother, Robert, who had ordered the FBI to change its focus from Communism to organized crime, which Hoover thought was a less serious threat. Other theories implicate Castro and Cubans, who, the theories claim, somehow arranged the assassination in retaliation for the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, which was approved by Kennedy and was meant to overthrow Castro's government. Some theories claim that the assassination was carried out by members of organized crime. One theory asserted in Oliver Stone's film JFK claim that the conspiracy was between a group of civilian far-right wingers and elements of the military-industrial complex, the mafia, law enforcement, and the CIA.One of the most popular aspects of the assassination that conspiracy theorists go after is the assertion that Oswald was the sole shooter, which is popularly known as the "lone gunman theory". Some critics of that conclusion assert that in order for the bullet that went through both Kennedy and Connally to have hit the parts of their bodies that were damaged, it would have had to have gone through Kennedy's chest and then taken a complicated and physically impossible trajectory which would have involved it making curves both vertically and horizontally and pausing in midair; when recited that way, the theory is derisively called "the magic bullet theory". This portrayal of the Warren Commission's conclusion is usually countered by the fact that the supposed trajectory is based on the assumption that Connally was seated right in front of Kennedy, which is not entirely accurate; Connally was actually seated on the jumper seat, which was located a bit to the left of Kennedy's seat and was a few inches lower. In those seating positions, it is fully possible for the bullet to have gone through the two of them in a straight line.
Another subject conspiracy theorists take issue with is the fact that Kennedy's head, when hit by the fatal bullet, goes backwards and not forwards as one might expect it to go if hit from the back. Theorists also point to the large number of doctors and nurses at Parkland Memorial Hospital, as well as others, who reported that a major portion of the back of the President's head was blown out, strongly suggesting that he had been hit from the front. The usual explanation for this movement is dubbed the "jet effect", which would cause the bullet to expel a lot of brain matter on its way out, propelling the skull backwards. The effect has been tested successfully on taped melons, but the tests have been criticized on the grounds that melons are not nearly as dense as a human skull and a shot directed towards one wouldn't produce the same reaction. Conspiracy theorists usually respond to this by suggesting that there was a second sniper located on the grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street, from which the hypothetical gunman would have fired the fatal head-shot at Kennedy from the front as the motorcade came up the road (some theories claim that shots were also/actually fired from the nearby Dal-Tex Building, the Dallas County Records Building, a nearby railroad overpass, and locations near the grassy knoll). This claim was in fact tested by the Discovery Channel in 2008, using modern body surrogates and forensic technology such as blood-spatter analysis and 3D computer simulations. They concluded that, based on the location of the injuries on Kennedy's skull and the direction and angle of the blood spatter from the fatal head-shot, it was likely fired from the Book Depository, as the Warren Commission asserted.
On July 29, 2013, details of a documentary titled JFK: The Smoking Gun were revealed, among them suggestions that Kennedy was shot once by Oswald, while the second shot was fired by Secret Service agent George Hickey, who was riding in a car behind Kennedy's limousine on that day. According to the suggestions, Kennedy was shot by Oswald, to which Hickey tried to fire back at Oswald with his issued AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, but due to inexperience with the firearm, he fired the shot prematurely and the bullet hit Kennedy in the neck, but not fatally, before Kennedy was shot in the head by Oswald. The documentary was based on the work made by Australian crime-writer and retired undercover police detective Colin McLaren and the 1992 book Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK by Bonar Menninger, both of which had also made such suggestions.
Oswald used an Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle to kill President Kennedy and shoot Governor Connally and James Tague. When he killed Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippit, he used a snub-nosed S&W Model 10 "Victory" .38-caliber revolver.
- April 10: Edwin Walker (former U.S. Army General; shot in the arm by a ricocheting bullet; survived)
- November 22:
- One killed and two injured in the Dealey Plaza shooting:
- John F. Kennedy (35th President of the United States; fatally shot twice in the upper back, spine, neck and head)
- John Connally (Governor of Texas; shot in the upper right back; survived)
- James Tague (civilian; struck in the right cheek by a bullet or bullet fragment; survived)
- Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippit (incidental; shot three times in the chest and once in the head with a revolver)
- One killed and two injured in the Dealey Plaza shooting:
On Criminal Minds
While he was first referenced in the Season Three episode A Higher Power, Oswald's mugshot was shown in the Season One episodes Won't Get Fooled Again and L.D.S.K., alongside photos and mugshots of other assassins in the latter example. In A Higher Power, the assassination of Kennedy was brought up alongside the 9/11 attacks as examples of tragedies that caused people to come together during public coping. In Final Shot, Oswald was frequently referenced (though not by name) when it was assumed that the unsub was an extremist and a conspiracy theorist who was sending a message through his killing spree. It should also be noted that the surname of Eric Carcani, another prominent unsub of the episode, may have been a reference to the Carcano rifle used by Oswald to kill Kennedy, since both names sound and are spelled extremely similarly.
- Lee Harvey Oswald
- The JFK assassination
- The rifle used to murder Kennedy
- Timeline of the assassination
- Conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination
- The Warren Commission
- The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations
- Colin McLaren
- David Ferrie
- Clay Shaw
- The trial of Clay Shaw
- Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK
- PBS's biography of Oswald and the JFK assassination
- Biography.com's biography of Oswald
- NBC News interview about J. Edgar Hoover
- The Discovery Channel tests:
- Detroit Free Press article on JFK: The Smoking Gun
- Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies
- ↑ It was a Russian tradition to do so