Mother of the Decade

Lee Harvey Oswald's mother clings to her conviction that her son has been wrongly made history's villain. She's building a library for scholars to prove it.
Mother of the Decade
Mrs. Oswald has all 350 books on the assassination, but wants to write her own.
Photograph by Geoff Winningham

Even over 300 miles of transatlantic cable a BBC voice is a BBC voice: calm, assured. “You see we’re doing this anniversary thing on the Assassination. We want you to interview Jackie Onassis, Nellie Connally, Lady Bird Johnson, Marina Oswald, Mrs. Tippett, Judge Sara Hughes, and oh, yes, Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother.” A job is only a job. This would be a career! I became excited. “You mean you want me to fly to the Greek islands and…” “No. Catch her in Central Park if you can. We’ve got our trace service in New York locating the others.”

The weeks passed. Jackie Onassis did not seem to be in Central Park. The trace service could locate no one. Not even Nellie Connally, even though McCalls had just done a big story on her. The voice from the BBC was turning testy. “No one? Listen. You’ve got to find four women. We’re planning this big feature. The Widows of Dealey Plaza. Go to Dallas. See what you come up with, and watch the expenses. we’re flying this photographer out from London to meet you there.” “You’re flying a photographer out from London, and you ask me to watch the expenses? There are photographers in Texas, you know.” The voice from BBC didn’t believe it.

The photographer came down from New York with me in the end. He was plump and like most pro photographers he liked to talk about sex. We rose about LaGuardia in the wet dawn. The photographer announced he wanted to lay the air hostess. And that girl three rows back. And that other one. We flew over Memphis. Nice girls in Memphis, said the photographer. We landed in Dallas. We checked into the Holiday Inn on Elm St. It was 10:30 A.M. The photographer beckoned to the bell boy. “Where can we get laid in this town?” It looked like a long week.

It got longer. Kenneth Porter, Marina Oswald’s second and present husband, said No. Then he said it again. No. Finally he seemed to be saying that an interview wth photographers would cost $3000. The voice from the BBC indicated surprise and shock. “Three thousand dollars. That’s more than a thousand pounds.” “I know.” “So what you’re saying is, no Marina Oswald. Nellie Connally is in San Diego. Lady Bird won’t see you. And Mrs. Tippett, now Mrs. Thomas, won’t return your calls.” “I am saying that.” “So at a cost of about $5000 in expenses and air fares you have interviewed Judge Sara Hughes.” “Yes.”

It seemed time to play my one card. “I’ve got Mrs. Marguerite Oswald. I’m seeing her tomorrow. It’s costing $400, but she’ll be sensational. I’ll do a little round-up on the others, some atmospherics on Dealey Plaza, and you can center it round her.” There was along ruminative silence between room 1827, the Holiday Inn, Dallas and extension 2563, Broadcasting House, London. Finally the great British solution to all tricky problems: “Do the best you can.” The voice added that the pictures better be good. They were going to put Marguerite on the cover. If the pictures were good.

I didn’t tell the voice that Marguerite had specified One Pose, Three Pictures. Anyone who has horsed around watching magazines waste money will know that no picture editor worth his light box is satisfied with less than ten poses and a hundred photographs.

We drove nervously to Fort Worth. Even on the phone Mrs. Marguerite Oswald’s commanding personality had been evident. “You’re being paid to do the story. Your outfit will make money. What about me? I have no money, but I hold the cards. I am the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald. I’ve waited ten long years for this. I always said it would break in ten years. My son is supposed to have been the assassin. Yet he was never tried. He died legally innocent. Unless they prove to me that he killed President Kennedy, this is my opinion. All I want is the truth.”

By and large Marguerite Oswald has not done well out of publicity. Writers have described her as a ghoul. She has said she would like to sell Lee’s gravestone. She is as briskly businesslike about her son’s belongings as a medieval monk selling pieces of the True Cross. She has been married three times. Her second husband divorced her, saying she had knocked him about. Her third husband, Lee’s father, died in 1964. William Manchester, no friend of the simple fact, described “her heavy jaw, knotted neck muscles, and face the colour of burnished pewter.”

The homely countenance that peered through the door seemed flesh-colored to me. Her eyes do pop a little. Her neck seemed normal. Her house is modest, but pleasant. A little study is crowded with Oswald relics and the bulk of the 350 or so books written on the assassination. Also photos of Lee, and of Marina. A blackboard has chalked on it with deliberate, camera-catching provocation, “They are all making the same mistake.” She lives alone, with two large dogs.

The photographer rose to the occasion. Separated momentarily from access to potential lays he threw himself into his role: the distinguished artist asking “as a privilege” for a few portraits. He sounded like a bishop saying his prayers. He said, truthfully, that he had photographed the Pope. He let her peer through the camera. He erected umbrellas, strobe lights. He clicked and clicked. Sweat poured off him, as Marguerite graciously inclined this way and that. She changed dresses. Still he clicked. I rejoiced. Even the BBC would be satisfied.

Marguerite Oswald speaks with the passion and truculence of a woman with very little money and only one asset. She is the mother of the man many people think shot the President.

“I am the strongest person in this tragedy, because I have lost everything. But Marguerite Oswald fights the powers. She’s the one who speaks out. She believes there has been injustice. This woman [she tapped herself repeatedly] was left with no one and no

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