In 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, a large offering of Kennedy memorabilia, including several of Lee’s belongings, was sold by RR Auctions. Two vintage Presidential limos realized the highest prices, but Lee’s wedding band, left behind for Marina as he left her the fateful morning, received, by far, the most press attention. It had been in the possession of Dallas lawyer Forrest Markward, given to him by the Secret Service, and was returned to Marina in 2012. In a letter that accompanied the ring, which sold for $108,000, Marina explained her reasons for selling the ring: ““At this time in my life I don’t wish to have Lee’s ring in my possession because symbolically I want to let go of my past that is connecting with Nov. 22, 1963.”1 Following in the footsteps of his mother, Robert Oswald also parted ways with some of the items owned by Lee. At the same 2013 auction, several objects formerly owned and authenticated by Robert as having been possessed by his brother were put on the block. Lee’s Marine Corps raincoat, which was listed on the inventory of items turned over to the FBI in January of 1964, sold for$15,600. On the authentication papers, the elder Oswald said, “‘Lee wore this coat during the period of time from his enlistment in 1956 until his discharge in September 1959. Before leaving for Europe in September 1959, Lee left this very coat with me in my Fort Worth home.”2 Other items which found their way into this auction sale included some plastic figurines for an electric football game, a Russian candy box sent to Marguerite, a chess set, and a personalized tweed sports coat made in Japan, all items owned by the accused assassin.
Five decades after that horrifying November weekend, Lee Harvey Oswald remains a puzzle. Most definitive answers to the questions he forced us to confront dissipated as he lay dying in Dallas. He left many clues to aid the hundreds of personal investigations performed by sleuths and history buffs. But, like the rest of his life, none of it is clear. Instead, the meanings and significance of the tiny details of Oswald’s life have been obscured by the passage of time, misunderstanding, and sloppy evidence handling. This uncertainty and elusiveness has made the mystique behind Oswald’s life become more powerful.
It is true that Lee Oswald may not have had the best formal education, but he was interested in some topics which may be considered beyond casual reading, for he owned books on subjects as diverse as Gregg shorthand, the history of the USSR, and parliamentary procedure (Robert’s Rules of Order). It is quite apparent that he was interested in world politics and government, for he owned literature about Fidel Castro, the right to travel, the Pact of Madrid, and worker’s rights. He also learned (or taught himself) the Russian Language and was seemingly trying to teach himself Spanish and German, based on German vocabulary notes in his address book and Spanish/Russian flash cards that he owned. Oswald was a man who also tried to hone his skills in his free time, studying maps and taking photographs, two activities with which he tried to make a living. He also owned weapons and forged documents.
What does it all mean? What can we learn from what he left behind? Is it possible to try to understand the man by examining what he owned? A large fragment of the riddle relates to the unclear possibility that Oswald had help. Certainly, clues are there. The special assistance that he had received throughout his adult life, such as the quick responses he received from important people within government agencies, is reflected in the correspondence he saved. Another possible clue lies within his employment history. Just how did Oswald, a man who had a dishonorable discharge (typically an enormous roadblock to finding future employment), a man who had just recently returned from an attempted defection to the enemy (he had declared he was going to hand over US military secrets at the Soviet Embassy), get a job at a facility that was handling classified military materials (Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall) using an incorrect Social Security Number? Certainly background checks were not unheard of in 1963, for possible Oswald associate Guy Banister had been contracted to perform background checks for defense contractor, Remington Rand.3 (Rand, incidentally, arranged for another Soviet defector, Robert Webster, to enter the USSR, as well as assisting in his return to the United States.) However, Oswald’s possessions also seem to make him out to be a failed dreamer. His grand plans for publishing his manuscript about Communism and Soviet life were never close to materializing.
Many of the ideas he had brainstormed to improve his life in hindsight seem naive, such as attempting to correct his discharge by contacting the Secretary of the Navy and his plot to convince his mother to appear at a local, rural Texas Red Cross office in hopes of securing funds to travel. His attempts at espionage seem strangely amateurish, such as the crudely made pieces of “Alek Hidell” identification and his use of that name to purchase a mail order rifle, which would so clearly connect him to the crimes. Was he, as some conspiracy theorists have claimed, a trained spy funded by nefarious elements within the US government; or as claimed by the Warren Commission, a clumsy loner, hell-bent on making a name for himself? In the decades since his death, answers to those questions have never been made apparent, which adds to the mystery, curiosity, and interest surrounding the possessions of Lee Oswald.
1 Grier, Peter. “Marina Oswald Sells Wedding Ring, Powerful Symbol of JFK Assassination.” Christian Science Monitor. N.p., 24 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 May 2015.
2 “Item 180 – Lee Harvey Oswald’s US Marine Corps Raincoat.” RR Auctions, Oct. 2013. Web. 12 July 2015.
3 Davy, William. “’Shoot Him Down’: NBC, the CIA and Jim Garrison.” Citizens for Truth About the Kennedy Assassination. N.d. Web. 20 May 2015.