Despite the apparently thorough nature of the searches of the two residences, evidently, many items belonging to Lee Oswald escaped the police dragnet. On December 8, more than two weeks after the assassination, Robert Oswald stopped by the Paine residence to gather up items that belonged to Lee and Marina that were still stored in Irving. Within his Warren Commission testimony, Robert said “(M)y subsequent second meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Paine–and I might add my last meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Paine– was at their home in Irving, Tex., on the day that Mr. John Thorne (Marina’s attorney), Mr. Jim Martin (Marina’s business manager) and myself– for the purpose of picking up Marina N. Oswald’s and Lee Harvey Oswald’s personal belongings. This was the only time that I have met them since the night of November 22, 1963.”1 He evidently felt little or no need to hand these items over to the FBI until the investigation was five months old. Oswald did, however, admit possessing the materials in his statements. This situation must be considered remarkable: attorney Thorne, Martin, Robert Oswald, and Marina Oswald all failed to feel any sense of urgency to hand over these potential pieces of evidence. This is all the more incredible when one considers that the daily lives of all of these people were being closely monitored by the Secret Service. 2
The FBI had become concerned with the whereabouts of a gray camera that Marina, in her commission testimony of February 3, had claimed she used to take the incriminating “Backyard photos” of her husband. (See below.) The device in question turned up on February 24th, when Robert delivered the Imperial Camera to the FBI, claiming it was in a box of Lee’s belongings that he had retrieved during his December visit to the Paine home. The reason given for his procrastination: “(H)e (Robert Oswald) had never been asked for it previously and because he could see no evidentiary value to anyone interested in the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy of this cheap camera which belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald.”3
Despite the urgency of the ongoing Warren Commission hearings, Robert waited another month, March 15, before he delivered the boxes of Lee’s belongings to the FBI. Contained within them were a wide variety of objects. Unfortunately, because of the lack of a properly recorded provenance, it is impossible to determine if all of the items did, indeed, belong to Lee. However, some most certainly did belong to him, such as a book given and inscribed by Intourist guide Rimma Shirakova; a gift to Lee in Moscow, and his Marine raincoat inscribed with his name (pictured above). Some of the objects were of historic value, such as Lee’s chess set (pictured above) and a book about Marxism. Some objects could have aided the investigation, such as the camera, several books, a roll of cellophane tape, Oswald’s suitcase, or his seabag, rumored to contain the artifacts of his life before his attempted defection. It had also been proven, by the December 2nd discovery of the “Walker letter,” that the Oswalds had made a point of hiding potentially valuable pieces of evidence in books. As a final note, none of the four officers present during the initial search of the Paine home recalled leaving a camera behind in the garage, the area of the home in which the objects had been stored. In fact, the four detectives present relayed that all of the boxes had been searched. 4 A review of the objects taken from the Paine home demonstrates that the search and seizure was anything but hasty; in fact, several objects taken in were clearly owned by the Paines, yet were still collected as evidence. It appeared that almost anything and everything that may have been of interest was gathered. It is unclear how several boxes, containing such items as Russian boots, a sea bag, and Oswald’s Marines uniform escaped detection.
Additionally, another suitcase, full of Oswald’s belongings, resurfaced in August, 1964. This suitcase had been in the possession of Marina Oswald when she lived with the Paines; however, it had been confiscated by an unknown entity “at the time of the assassination,” and delivered to her “after the assassination.” Oswald did not recall “how exactly she acquired (it) or from whom.”5 It was described in an FBI report as “a small brown suitcase which contained old magazines, personal letters, personal photographs of her children, greeting cards, and books.” Several items relating to Lee Oswald’s purported trip to Mexico City were found within: some books, a street map of Mexico City, and a stub for a bus ticket purchased in Mexico City on October 1st or 2nd for a return trip to Laredo, Texas. These items were transferred to FBI custody on August 27, 1964. An August 31 AP wire story reported that “a further piece in Lee Harvey Oswald’s trip to Mexico some seven weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy has fallen into place with the discovery of a Mexican bus ticket stub.” Indeed, as of July 1, the Warren Commission was uncertain about whether Oswald’s trip to Mexico City had taken place, as eyewitnesses were unable to photographically identify him. In her August 28 statement accompanying the items, Marina stated, “To the best of my knowledge, I have made available for examination everything which might possibly contain a pertinent article or thing in this investigation.”
However, by that time a pattern had arisen: whenever the Warren Commission confronted a significant question that couldn’t conclusively be answered, a critical piece of evidence with no clear chain of custody or provenance (the “Walker letter,” the Imperial Reflex Camera, the bus ticket stub, Oswald’s wedding band), would, almost seemingly by magic, appear in a timely manner from locations and sources that apparently had already been thoroughly searched. The contents of Marina’s little brown suitcase had already been examined by the FBI on February 17, 1964, six months earlier. No bus ticket stub or map was found.6
1 Warren Commission, Testimony of Robert Oswald
2 Secret Service memorandum, Thomas J. Kelley (author) “Protection of Oswald Family,” n.d.
3 Warren Commission, Commission Exhibit 2557
5 Oswald, Marina. (1964, August 27). [FBI interview].
6 Warren Commission, Commission Exhibit 1156