I Inherited Lee Harvey Oswald's Mother
Forty-nine years ago this past week, a President, the Crown Price of Camelot, rode past the cheering multitudes and into Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas.
Moments later, he was dying.
Minutes later, he was dead.
Three shots were fired, they said.
Three shots came from the Sixth Floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building, they said.
Three shots were fired by a lone gunman, they said.
I never met the lone gunman. A strip club owner named Jack Ruby gunned him down before any of us got to know him. All we ever knew was what they wanted us to know, and we never knew who they were and what was real or imagined.
The lone gunman remained a mystery. I never spoke to Lee Harvey Oswald, but, for a time, I inherited the lone gunman’s mother.
Marguerite Oswald was a bitter little woman. She ranted a lot and raved even more. She was short and could be called dumpy, maybe even squatty. She never smiled when a scowl would work just as well. She had a shrill voice, was sometimes repulsive with her profane use of profanity, was always annoying, and was afflicted with a bad attitude. She dressed plainly, wore big plastic frame glasses, and was always on the threshold of poverty. She was forever upset. She was angry. She was paranoid. No. Other people might be paranoid, but Marguerite knew they were really out to get her, and she may have been right.
In short, Marguerite Oswald was not a pleasant person to be around. But she was lonely. She needed someone she could talk when when she had fallen into a state of depression, and depression became her permanent place of residence.
Marguerite could not afford a shrink. She didn’t have enough money to run a tab with a bartender. But a newspaper reporter would do just fine. The price was right.
Jerry Flemmons wrote the best copy to ever appear in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, but he made the mistake of interviewing Marguerite once, she loved what he wrote about her, and she latched on to him like a long lost son. That was fine. For a while, he enjoyed the notoriety. He had replaced Lee Harvey in Marguerite’s life.
Then came the phone calls every day, twice an hour, sometimes more, and she always had a new theory on why her son was innocent of shooting down John F. Kennedy. Flemmons collected shoe boxes full of notes, and, one day, he woke up and realized he couldn’t take it any more.
Flemmons was my friend. “I’ve got a deal for you,” he said. “I’m moving out of hard news to become the Star-T’s travel editor.”
“Congratulations,” I said.
“I’m giving you Marguerite Oswald,” he said.
I looked stunned.
“Congratulations,” he said.
We hit it off, she and I, and, for a time, I became the newest lost son in Marguerite Oswald’s life. We talked for hours by phone and in person. We cried, ranted, and prayed together, and I often think that the lone gunman’s mother may have solved the mystery behind the assassination. But no one would listen to her.
I wrote a story about her theory.
“You don’t believe that,” I was told.
“But she’s crazy,” the government said.
“She’s crazy,” law enforcement said.
“She’s crazy,” the Secret Service said.
“She’s crazy,” the Warren Commission had said
Here is what Marguerite Oswald believed. And the more I have thought about it over the years, the more sense it makes.
We were living in the midst of the Cold War. Everyone feared Russia. Everyone feared the bomb. We went to sleep at night hoping that some Intercontinental Ballistic Missile wouldn’t wipe us off the face of the earth before morning. Peddlers were selling bomb shelters from one end of the country to the other.
According to Marguerite Oswald, the government had agents set up in every major city in the country. They had all been given convincing and unshakable back stories that linked them to Russia or Cuba or some other unsavory enemy of ours. Lee Harvey was one of them.
Those in power feared that the Russians would some day assassinate the President.
If it happened, God forbid, the government needed some Patsy already set up in the city so they could immediately have someone to arrest within hours after a President had fallen. The script had already been written. Arrest somebody, and the nation would relax. If a President died, and the assassin remained on the loose, and no one knew who fired the fatal shot, the nation, they feared, would go into a state of panic, and they could not take that chance. People would be running loose in the streets, loading their rifles, and waiting for the Russians to attack.
In Dallas, a President was murdered.
Lee Harvey was arrested right on cue.
America breathed a sigh of relief.
He said he was a Patsy. Everyone ignored him.
And another gunman took him out.
The truth died with him.
That’s what Marguerite told me. I was afraid to believe her. I was afraid not to believe her. So I met with her a lot and let her babble a lot, and I listened a lot, and after awhile, my editor said, “There’s no use writing anything else about Marguerite Oswald.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“She’s crazy,” he said.
And when I left the newspaper, as far as I know, no one ever bothered to take her phone calls again.