Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans
and raised by his widowed mother. When he was a toddler his mother sent him and his two siblings to an orphanage for over a year because she was unable to take care of them. She soon remarried and was able to take the children back, although she filed for divorce from her new husband in 1948 because of his numerous affairs. Oswald was a withdrawn and temperamental child. At age 13 he was alleged to have threatened his half brother's wife with a knife and attacked his mother. He was frequently truant from school while living in New York
, and when he was assessed by a psychiatrist he was determined to have schizoid personality tendencies, that is to say emotional coldness and disinterest in social relationships, and to be preoccupied with obtaining omnipotence or power to compensate for his perceived shortcomings.
His mother returned to New Orleans along with him, and while there he dropped out of 10th grade in 1955. He had a menial job, and the family soon moved to Fort Worth. While there he re-enrolled in school, but dropped out again in 1956. He was a poor writer, but a capable reader, and claimed to be a socialist when he was 15, indicating a desire to join the Young People's Socialist League at 16. At 17 he enlisted in the Marines
, long a dream of his. He had probably based this dream around both a desire to emulate his idolized elder brother Robert, and to get away from his overbearing mother.
While in the Marines he was initially a radar operator, which necessitated a further security clearance that allowed him to access information designated "Confidential". He also received training in the use of rifles, testing as a sharpshooter at first but later receiving the lower qualification of marksman. First he was assigned to a base in California
, before being transferred to a base in Japan
. It has been suggested that it was in Japan that he first began passing information to the Soviets
. During this time he was court-martialed twice, once for accidentally shooting himself with an unauthorised handgun and once for fighting with a sergeant. He was demoted for these incidents from private first class to private. At this time he was also noted by his fellow Marines for his pro-Soviet sentiments. He was transferred back to California, working in a unit with the main duty of training other officers for deployment overseas. He subscribed to a communist newspaper and claimed to have taught himself basic Russian, though he scored poorly on a 1959 Marine-administered test of written ann spoken Russian.
On October 16th, 1959 Oswald arrived in the Soviet Union
, announcing his desire to become a Soviet citizen. This application was denied, and on October 31st he went to the US Embassy in Moscow
to renounce his US citizenship. An official's opinion was that Oswald had been coached in what he said and did in the matter. Oswald told Soviet officials that he was willing to pass information that he had gained about the Marines and about other sensitive American activities that he had gained through his security clearance. Because of this his reason for discharge from the Marines was given as "undesirable".
He was sent to Minsk, although he had wanted to attend Moscow University, and was given employment as a lathe operator. He also received a furnished apartment, and supplementary income, but was kept under full-time surveillance by the Soviets. He quickly grew bored of Minsk, and by 1961 was beginning to consider returning to the US, going so far as to request the return of his passport from the US Embassy. In March of that same year he met Marina Prusakova, who he married only a few weeks later. In the summer of that year they applied for documents to allow her to immigrate to the US. Their daughter, June, was born in February of 1962, and in June they returned to the US. They received no press coverage, a fact which troubled Oswald.
They moved to Dallas, where Oswald came into contact with anti-Communist Russian immigrants who did not like Oswald. However, they maintained contact with the family for a short while because they felt sorry Marina, as Oswald had already begun to physically abuse her, as well as refusing to teach her, or allow her to learn, English. During this period Oswald went through several jobs, either leaving them because he was bored or getting fired because of his rudeness.
On April 10th, 1963 Oswald attempted to assassinate retired Major General Edwin Walker, who he shot at through a window while Walker was sitting at his desk. He was not suspected of the attempt at the time, but was suspected after the later assassination, and was tied through ballistics. He allegedly told his wife of the attempt.
He returned to New Orleans on April 25th and attempted to get involved in the Fair Play for Cuba
Committee (FPCC), a pro-Castro
organization, but was turned down when he offered to start up an office in New Orleans because his offer seemed suspicious. In August he made visits to an anti-Castro activist, Carlos Bringuier, who later believed that this was an attempt by Oswald to infiltrate the organization. A few days later, Oswald was passing out pro-Castro fliers in New Orleans and got into an altercation with Bringuier, which resulted in both men and two other anti-Castro activists being arrested. This led to some of the media attention that Oswald craved. That September he went to Mexico
, and in Mexico City made several attempts to obtain a visa to enter Cuba, claiming that he intended to travel to the Soviet Union after visiting Cuba. He was denied repeatedly, but was finally given the visa on October 18th. Despite the amount of work he had put into obtaining the visa, he did not travel to Cuba, instead returning to Dallas on October 3rd. On October 16th he gained a job in the Texas
School Book Depository. His second daughter was born four days later. His wife was suspected of being a Soviet agent, so FBI
agents twice visited her home. Sometime between the 12th and the 15th he visited the FBI office and left a threatening note demanding his wife be left alone.
Prior to John F. Kennedy's
arrival, Oswald was aware that the president would be passing by the Book Depository, and on the morning of the 22nd he was seen carrying a long paper bag. At 12:30 as the Kennedy motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, Oswald fired three shots from the sixth floor. He struck the president in the head, and also wounded Texas Governor John Connally. After this he hid his rifle and descended through the rear staircase. He encountered a police officer who allowed him to pass, and later claimed that he did not appear nervous, afraid, or out of breath. He continued downwards from the front staircase and left the building before it was sealed, the only employee to do so. He returned to his boarding house where he got a jacket from his room and went out again. Between 1:11 and 1:14 he fatally shot patrolman J.D. Tippit and was seen fleeing the scene.
He was captured after entering the Texas Theatre without paying for a ticket, which caused theatre staff to alert the police. He was arrested after a brief struggle in the theatre, and arrived at the police station around 2:00. He was arraigned on the charges of both murders by the end of the night. During interrogations, of which there were several, he denied everything from killing the president to bringing a large paper bag to work that day to knowing anything about the fake Selective Services card found in his possession. He gave contradictory accounts of his whereabouts during the assassination.
On November 24th, two days after the assassination, Oswald was being taken through the Dallas Police Department's basement in preparation to be transferred to county jail. At 11:21 Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner, stepped out of the crowd and fired a single shot, striking Oswald in the abdomen. He died a few hours later at the same hospital where Kennedy had died two days previous. His assassination was broadcast live to millions of viewers, and it was also captured in a famous photograph.
Almost from the moment that the president died, myriad conspiracy theories have sprung up around the assassination. One of the most popular is commonly referred to as the "Grassy Knoll Theory". it focuses on the belief that Oswald was not acting alone, and most frequently that the other shooter was hidden on the grassy knoll, located in front of the presidential limousine at the time.
Others hold that the assassination was the work of a CIA
conspiracy, a Cuban conspiracy, an Organized Crime
conspiracy a Secret Service
conspiracy, a Soviet conspiracy, or any of dozens of other theories that have been proposed at one time or another. There is no solid evidence for any of these theories, though of course that hasn't stopped them from proliferating
In Other Media
Lee Harvey Oswald has become an infamous character in the American conscience, some viewing him as an evil man, others as a scapegoat for a conspiracy. In the comic book 100 Bullets
it was suggested that the president was killed by a man on the grassy knoll, implied to be baseball player Joe DiMaggio
Oswald has also made appearances in numerous books, television shows and movies, both fiction and non-fiction, many of which have dealt with his motivation and degree of involvement in the assassination, as well as focusing on his personal life.
He appeared as one of the major characters in the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins,
where the role was originated by actor Jace Alexander, and revived on Broadway by Neil Patrick Harris. Interestingly, in this musical it was suggested the Oswald had intended to simply commit suicide on Novermber 22nd, and was prompted to assassinate the president by the other assassins featured in the play, especially John Wilkes Booth