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A Series of Articles on the
Key West-JFK Connection
By Tim Gratz..Special to the Citizen
And Mark Howell
Citizen Arts & Entertainment Editor

[ Key West Citizen, Key West, Florida. Permission granted January 6, 2004 to reproduce here.]
2003 Nov. 19 Presidential visits: Kennedy and Key West ... View Article ...
2003 Nov. 20 The strange flight of Gilbert Lopez ... View Article ...
2003 Nov. 21 No Name Key mercenaries linked to JFK assassination ... View Article ...       
2003 Nov. 22 The bishop and the pawn ... View Article ...
2003 Nov. 23 Searching for ghosts; Did Oswald meet Ruby at Key West Airport? ... View Article ...

(supplement to the five part series)
2003 Nov. 24 The saga of Rolando Cubela ... View Article ...
[Key  West Citizen, 11/19/2003]

The morning after the assassination, Marina Oswald dresses her 22 month old daughter June for a trip downtown to Dallas police headquarters. "You just decide not to die, that's all. You dare not to die."

The Questions Never Cease

by Mark Howell

Probing the Keys connections to the Kennedy assassination for The Citizen this week has been a killer experience. By which I mean that, for space reasons, we had to kill so much of the information we had unearthed. But also because of the task's inherent edginess, and its lightness too.

Wilhelmina Harvey told me that when she and her husband C. B. Harvey, the city mayor, met President Kennedy his 1962 visit, she mentioned to the President that the First Lady (who was not on the trip) might look prettier if she wore her hair in a different way. The next week, "Lo and behold," said the county mayor emeritus, "Jackie had the hairstyle I'd suggested!"

Then there was the moment when, in the elegance of a Key West house, we asked the homeowner whether her husband had or had not been a CIA operative and had to sit through the heavy, heavy silence that followed. Which is something no Key West writer would want to miss.

The Kennedy assassination is the sort of story that can spill across your desk like a can of beans. My job has been to curb that spill against the infinite and infectious enthusiasms of my cowriter Tim Gratz, plus the infernal aptitude of library historian Tom Hambright for digging up big evidence just as we'd closed our notebooks.

The most curious assassination details I have come across are the personal ones that do not have any particular link to the Keys other than a shared humanity.

There is so much I had forgotten or did not know.

I knew that Oswald's World War II vintage Italian Mannlicher Carcano carbine not only killed Kennedy but wounded Texas Governor John B. Connolly too. It also hit bystander James T. Tague.

I'd forgotten about James T. Tague. He was grazed on the cheek by a ricochet. A car salesman at the time, Tague's roommate turned out to have been a guitar player who was dating a dancer who worked for Jack Ruby. Small town, Dallas. Tague is still in the auto business there today.

I knew that John F. Kennedy was buried in Arlington Cemetery. I knew that Officer J.D. Tippett was buried in Laurel Land Memorial Cemetery in Dallas. And I knew that Lee Harvey Oswald was buried in a 2,700 pound steel reinforced concrete vault in Rose Hill cemetery in Fort Worth.

I had forgotten, however, that in 1981 Oswald's body was disinterred from its grave. An author called Michael Eddowes had brought suit in Texas to determine who was actually buried in Oswald's grave.

The exhumed skull grinned with a full set of natural front teeth. Yet it is well known that Oswald lost a front tooth in a fight at school; a photo from the period showed him with the gap, before it was fixed with a partial plate.

This gels with something Marina had always claimed, that her husband spoke fluent Russian when she first met him.

Marina Nikolayevna Prusakov Oswald married Lee Harvey Oswald when she was 19, in Minsk where she was studying to be a pharmacist. Oswald had defected (supposedly) to the Soviet Union and later changed his mind, returning to the United States in 1961 with Marina in tow.

But Oswald had not spoken fluent Russian when he left the U.S. Nor was he intensively taught Russian in the Marines as was widely believed right after the assassination.

What's more, Oswald's mother and brother claimed that the fellow who came back from Russia spoke English with a slight Russian accent.

There were other radical changes in Oswald, not only a loss of weight and a thinning of his hair but also a shrinking of his height.

On his Defense Department ID for the Marines, Oswald's height is given as 5 foot 11 inches. When he was arrested after the assassination, he was measured at 5 foot 9 inches.

So who was the guy who came back from Russia?

Oswald's mother was little help. Marguerite Oswald had written to her Texas congressman back in 1960, asking for help in tracing her son's whereabouts in Russia. She loudly suggested that Lee was a secret agent of some sort, and that governments could do anything they wanted with their agents.

"I say the U.S. Embassy ordered him to marry this Russian girl," Marguerite told the Warren Commission, who considered her a whack job. "I know about the CIA and so on, the U2, Powers and things that have been made public. They go through any extreme for their country."

J. Edgar Hoover was also of little help. The FBI boss had already been sending memos like this one to the State Department dated June 3, 1960: "There is a possibility that an impostor is using Oswald's birth certificate."

Ten years ago Peter Wronski wrote a book about the height discrepancy, focusing on the only known full-length photograph of Oswald together with his wife. It showed Lee to be barely taller than the 5 foot 3 inch Marina. Wronski wrote that the woman in the photo was not Marina but Lucy Petrusevich, a friend of Marina who resembled her.

"But I was wrong," Wronski announced in 1999. "And I deeply regret my mistake. I fell into the very trap I accuse other JFK researchers of falling into: Fitting witness statements to preconceived ideas. My preconception was that the kind of substitution that the theorists proposed does not exist, so I hungrily grasped at any data to support that preconception."

Whoever the man was that married Marina and don't ask me we do know she did not like him very much. The KGB, which bugged the couple's apartment, heard Marina telling neighbors she was "dissatisfied with Lee's mind." Worse yet, she complained, Lee was "always spoiling the air with gases" and doing so as naturally as drinking water.

In America, the couple's neighbors said she was often seen "black and blue over half her face." By that time, Marina surely knew her Lee.

Her Lee was the guy who wrote on Holland American stationary on the way back to United States: "I wonder what would happen if someone would stand up and say he was utterly opposed not only to governments, but to the people, to the entire land and complete foundation of his society."

It is a statement that heralded the end of a relatively happy time in America and the beginning of a decade that would be wracked with civil and military violence.

"Sometimes in the dark of night," wrote Marina, known as the Third Widow, "I begin to think. And I wonder if Lee started all this violence. The memory is like a cat scratching my heart."

In March 1964, Marina overdosed on antidepressants and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Dallas, where she was placed on suicide watch. Upon her release, she moved back to New Orleans and has remained there since.

Marina came to believe that Oswald did not act alone, contrary to the views she shared with the Warren Commission. She concluded in Ladies Home Journal in 1988: "I think he was caught between two powers, the government and organized crime."

In 1996, Marina wrote to the Assassinations Review Board that "I definitely think that Lee did not kill President Kennedy. I think he was given up to pacify people as a patsy."

As for why she changed her view over the years from solo assassin to no assassin at all she replied: "When I was questioned by the Warren Commission, I was a blind kitten."

Novelist Norman Mailer has written extensively on the Kennedy assassination and in the mid 1990s he interviewed Marina for "Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery." He noted that "she may be the last living smoker to consume four packs a day." He added that she appeared "sensual, not sexual." Marina herself considered her face to be "ugly from either side."

She is reported to have had an affair with one or more of her FBI case officers in Texas before marrying Kenneth J. Porter of New Orleans.

"Look, I'm walking through the woods, trying to find a path, just like all of us," she declared in one of the thousands of hours of interviews she has given over 40 years. "The difference is, I have a little bit of insight. Only half the truth has been told."

Mailer paints a picture of the other half:

"She sits in a chair, a tiny woman in her fifties, her thin shoulders forward in such pain of spirit under such a mass of guilt that one would comfort her as one would a child. What is left of what was once her beauty are her extraordinary eyes, blue as diamonds, and they blaze with light as if, in divine compensation for the dead weight of all that will not cease to haunt her, she has been granted a spark from the hour of an apocalypse others have not seen."

Lee and Marina had two children. Audrey Marina Rachel Oswald and June Lee Oswald. Marina today is a grandmother.

If you punch "Bush children" into your computer's search engine, you get about 3,600,000 responses.

If you type in "Oswald children," you get the big bagel, namely zero.

There is, however, a web site that will locate Marina's children for you at a price.

But I thought to myself this week, there is one thing I do know. There is an answer to this one.

Which is: I don't think so. Not the children.

No question.

At last.

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