The Possessions of Lee Harvey Oswald: 1026 North Beckley, Oak Cliff, Dallas

At times during their marriage, Lee and Marina Oswald were forced, by necessity, to live apart. The weeks preceding the assassination were, according to the Warren Commission, stressful on the married couple. Marina had been staying with Ruth Paine while Oswald seemed to be drifting. Following his mysterious trip to Mexico City, in late September, Oswald had moved into a rented room at 621 Marsalis, owned by Mary Bledsoe. After a stay of less than a week, Bledsoe ejected Oswald from the property, according to her testimony, because “there was just something about him I didn’t like or want him– just wasn’t the kind of person I wanted. Just didn’t want him around me.”1 Coincidentally, Bledsoe would have an important encounter with her former tenant on the fateful day of the assassination. Oswald, registering under the pseudonym “O. H. Lee,” would manage to find another temporary home: a bedroom in the home of Arthur and Gladys Johnson, 1026 North Beckley in Dallas.

Image result for Gladys Johnson Beckley
Gladys Johnson in Oswald’s room after the police search.

The residence had 22 rooms; housing approximately 10 tenants, the Johnsons, as well as housekeeper, Earlene Roberts. Oswald’s small bedroom had formerly been the house’s library room. Upon arriving, he carried his military duffle bag containing his clothes, Gladys Johnson said. His room, according to Johnson, was “a very small room; it had an old fashioned clothes closet that had a place to hang your clothes and drawer space for your underwear, your socks and everything, and then it also had a cabinet space anyone could have stored food or, well I mean bundles of things, you know, and then I had a dresser and a bed and a heater and a little refrigerated unit (air conditioner).” The day of his accused crimes, November 22, Oswald had returned to the boarding house in the early afternoon, briefly making an appearance around 1 PM, while Earlene Roberts was learning of the eventful news. She was adjusting the television, trying to improve reception to watch local coverage, when Lee Oswald hurriedly walked by, rushing to his room. Oswald spent approximately three to four minutes in the residence, before suddenly leaving again. He had grabbed his jacket and was zipping it up as he exited. At the time, Roberts could not have conceived that she was alone in the building with a man who, within hours, would be accused of two cold-blooded murders. Her place of employment and residence would soon be turned upside down, almost immediately becoming the scene of an enormous investigation. This big house with the small bedroom was the scene of the second search of Lee Oswald’s property on November 22.

Lee Oswald’s employer, the Texas Schoolbook Depository, knew nothing of his rental arrangements; indeed, the address of record at the warehouse was 2515 West Fifth Street in Irving, the Paine household. Ruth Paine gave police an important piece of evidence: a phone number at which Lee Oswald could be reached during the week. According to the testimony of Deputy Walthers, “Mrs. Paine got a phone number from Mrs. Oswald where you could call Lee Harvey Oswald in Oak Cliff. It was a Whitehall phone number, I believe, and they said they didn’t know where he lived, but this was where they called him, and I called Sheriff Decker on the phone when I was there and gave him that number for the crisscross, so they could send some men to that house, which I think they did, but I didn’t go myself.”2 According to reports, Officers Bill Senkel and W. E. Potts, as well as Lieutenant Cunningham, arrived at the Beckley Street address at approximately 3 PM. However, if the testimonies of Roberts and the Johnsons are to be taken at face value, police had made two earlier trips to the home that afternoon: evidently a Dallas Police car that stopped in front of the driveway around the time Oswald was in the house, and, at around 1:30 or 2 PM, some plainclothes officers arrived to ask if “Lee Harvey Oswald” lived there. The accuracy of neither account has been conclusively verified.

The officers could not perform a search until Justice of the Peace, David L, Johnston, Det. R. M. Turner, Det. H. M. Moore, and Assistant District Attorney, Bill Alexander, arrived with the search warrant at approximately 5 PM, enabling the officers to initiate their formal inquiry. Detective Potts described the scene in this way: “Well, the room was off–as you walk into the house, the living area, the room was right there at the front door, and it was off to the left of the living room. It was a real small room. It was, oh, I don’t suppose it was 6 to 8 feet wide, and maybe 10 feet long. It was a real small room. It had a half bed in there and back in the back there it had a shelf—some shelves and stuff that he had some food and stuff back there in.”

CE 113 & 114. Oswald’s Texas driving handbook. Binoculars and case.

Within this room, Oswald had stored his most basic possessions, items that were deemed useful enough to bring over from the Paines’. Their search was quite thorough, as Potts noted that the only items left behind in the boarding room were cans of food and banana peels left in the garbage can. He said, “We even took the pillow cases off of one of the pillows and put stuff in it. He had one of those little zipper-type bags and he had a lot of stuff in it.” Listed among the inventory was one blue plastic “AWOL type” bag. Found within the bag was a map of Dallas that had several pencil marks. It was reported in the Dallas Times Herald of November 25, that the markings on the map showed the trajectory of shots on the President’s motorcade route. An FBI analysis of the map did demonstrate that there was a 1/8 inch line emanating from the corner of the building containing the sniper’s nest, but the line was going in the wrong direction. There were other marks highlighting Love Field (where the President landed in Dallas), the driver’s license office, as well as locations where Oswald had applied for a job. The FBI eventually determined that this map was used by Oswald as an aid to finding employment, rather than a plan for a crime. Other items seemed sinister, such as a leather holster for a .38 pistol, seemingly connecting Oswald to the crime for which he was arrested: the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit a few blocks away. Oswald also owned several knives, including a hunting knife with a scabbard, as well as two pocket knives. Also found in the room were a pair of cloth work gloves that Oswald may have used at his workplace. Several items connected Oswald to his recent trip to Mexico, including a bar of Mexican “Lux” soap, a 20-centavo coin, and a small sewing kit with a Mexican medallion inside. Lee also had an unsigned application for a Texas driver’s license and the book to study for its exam. Most of his toiletry items, including a hand brush, nail file were discovered at Beckley, as well as his clothing. In all, over 100 individual items were removed from the property.

Homeowner Johnson recalled the contents of her former library-turned bedroom being searched,” (Y)ou couldn’t help but see everything, the books all they took out of these chests of drawers. They was throwin’ them down on the bed.” A UPI wire photo taken of Mrs. Johnson that day shows a thoroughly confused woman, standing next to the unmade bed of the accused murderer, after the search had been completed. The items were taken to Dallas City Hall, where they would be cataloged and analyzed. Hundreds of items owned by one man, gathered in two days would now have to be pieces to an unassembled jigsaw puzzle, a riddle still unsolved. Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?

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1  Warren Commission, Testimony of Mary Bledsoe

2  Warren Commission, Testimony of E.W. Walthers

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