Museum curator sheds light on accused JFK assassin

KAGAWONG—Rick Nelson, curator of the Old Mill Museum in Kagawong, told the Recorder last week that when the museum held its annual History Night this past summer, focussing on the Daniel Dodge story and the Kennedy assassination, he and fellow researcher Bill Tuttle just barely scratched the surface on Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of US President John F. Kennedy, on Friday, November 22, 1963.

“I had barely got into his personality at all or was able to share the important things I had learned about him when I was staying with his former wife Marina and her second husband in Dallas back in 1994,” said Mr. Nelson.

The genesis of all of this began when Bill Tuttle and Mr. Nelson travelled to Dallas in May 1992. “We met the curator of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Museum (the consultant for the Oliver Stone movie ‘JFK’) and he set us up with a number of people directly related to the case, witnesses and authors so we could do some film interviews. Then when we got back to Sudbury and decided to put on a JFK symposium at Laurentian University the following year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in 1993.”

“The Dallas museum arranged to bring some people up and that included Marina Oswald and her second husband Ken Porter,” he said. This was the first time he had met her and they became friends. Several months later Mr. Nelson found himself in Dallas helping out at the museum after the curator died.

“Marina put me up at her home between 1994-1995,” said Mr. Nelson. “During the time I stayed with her, I got a three dimensional profile of Lee Harvey Oswald. We all know Lee Harvey Oswald from books and news reels but the wife of the alleged assassin was able to fill in a lot of background information with her firsthand account. She flushed him out as a real person.”

“I came away with the viewpoint that I didn’t think much of him when all was said and done,” said Mr. Nelson. “Based on what she told me he already had a tendency towards violence and was a wife beater. Before you factor in the assassination, what he did and the way he treated her, I didn’t think much of him as a human being. He couldn’t hold down a job, he couldn’t have a conversation with anyone without having an argument. He didn’t have any friends and he was very political, which took him away from what Marina perceived to be the important issues. She would say to him, ‘stop spending so much time being James Bond and get a job, you have two kids to feed’.”

“He was a Marxist communist pro-Castro individual,” said Mr. Nelson. “In the late 1950s he defects to Russia; how many people do you know defect to Russia? This was at the height of the Cold War. As a former member of the military, he offered the Russians his knowledge of American military technology but the Russians thought he wasn’t stable and passed on the offer.”

“They weren’t going to allow him to stay in the Soviet Union, so he slit his wrist; this was one of his first violent acts to try to get attention. So the Russians felt sorry for him and let him stay. They shipped him to Minsk, had him working at a factory, where he met Marina at a union dance and within six weeks they got married. She once said to me ‘I should never have gone to that dance’.”

Mr. Nelson explained within a year of Lee Harvey Oswald’s marriage to Marina, he became disillusioned with the communist lifestyle in the Soviet Union and wanted to return to the United States. He got a loan to cover the travelling expenses and he and his wife, and now a child, returned to the US where they settled between Dallas and New Orleans.

It was at this time that Oswald’s next violent act was to shoot at a retired general in Dallas, but he missed the target. “That crime was left unsolved until after the Kennedy assassination,” said Mr. Nelson. “Lee told Marina he had done this but rather than turn him in, she told him if he ever did anything like that again she would leave him. If she had turned him in at that time President Kennedy would be alive today. I think that is why she is so traumatized and racked with guilt to this very day.”

“She believes he wanted to kill Richard Nixon,” continued Mr. Nelson. “Nixon was making an appearance in Dallas, and after the previous unsuccessful shooting attempt on the general he got his gun and said he wanted to check out Nixon. She locked him in a bathroom until he had calmed down. Once again, another opportunity to have him dealt with had been lost,” said Mr. Nelson. “However, Marina was a very young Russian immigrant in a strange land, could hardly speak English and was totally dependent on him. She worried that if anything were to happen to him she would be forced to go back to Russia. So she had to live with his faults.”

Mr. Nelson noted that in November 1963, Marina and Mr. Oswald had separated and were living in different parts of the city. His difficulty finding work and the domestic violence had led her to break up with him for awhile. He’d come and visit on weekends so he could visit the kids. The second child had just been born.

“Her landlady helped him get a job at the Texas School Book Depository,” continued Mr. Nelson. “She knew the supervisor, put in a good word for him, and he got hired. This was six weeks before the assassination took place. At that time he wouldn’t have known this was going to be the location that President Kennedy’s motorcade would be passing through because the parade route had not yet been made public.” Then the route was published and the night before the assassination Oswald visited Marina and picked up his rifle that he had secretly stored in her landlady’s garage, said Mr. Nelson.

“Initially Marina thought he had indeed assassinated the president but over the years she began to do her own research and came to the conclusion he might be innocent of the crime. It also might have been her mechanism to deal with the guilt she was facing,” said Mr. Nelson.

During his stay with the former Ms. Oswald, Mr. Nelson, “spent a lot of time sitting at her kitchen table, talking about a lot of things with her and her second husband. It wasn’t always about the assassination, but the conversation always seemed to come back to her first husband, Lee.”

“With Lee Harvey Oswald there was a pattern or theme of violence there,” continued Mr. Nelson. Especially the domestic violence. I came away with the impression that here was a guy that if one was to go out and have beer with him, you probably would have ended up scuffling with him.”

He was complex. “Marina told me about a conversation they had during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During this time, she wondered if she should to go back to Russia, her fatherland. Over there people would have duties to perform in a time of war. However Lee Oswald said President Kennedy was going to get everyone out of this mess. Everything she learned good about President Kennedy had come from her husband, Lee Harvey Oswald. So why would he kill him?”

“It must be a terrible burden to be the wife of the alleged assassin. For this reason, it was hard to get Marina out of her funk. So I would try to distract her with humour. She had a great sense of humour when she allowed it to surface and loved to laugh, and she had a great laugh,” said Mr. Nelson. “She is a compassionate person, always wanting to give of herself.”

“A researcher once asked me why I never kept a daily journal of my time with Marina,” said Mr. Nelson. “I said that everyone she ever trusted wrote a book about her and she felt used. So for me it would have been a betrayal of trust.”

“However this is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s murder, she’s in her early 70s now and I think it’s time to share a little bit about this nice lady and what she has gone through,” said Mr. Nelson.

Just before History Night in Kagawong last August, “I called her up to wish her a happy birthday. The 50th anniversary of the assassination was approaching and I asked if she had been getting calls for interviews. She said yes and she had refused to give the interviews. Then she told me she was fed up with the whole thing, and that it was never going to get resolved. She felt too much time was being spent on who killed Kennedy versus who didn’t kill him.” Then she asked me, ‘do you think he did it?’ I said I definitely believed her husband had been involved in the plot, but I didn’t want to directly challenge her and say that I thought he was responsible. I could tell she was in despair. I said you have survived this tragedy and have managed to make a life for yourself. She had remarried and had a wonderful second husband, her children have grown up to be fine citizens and they have lived productive lives. I told her she is a great mother and grandmother. I said to Marina that that should be your legacy. I said I’m proud of you and it was at that point that she told me to lay off,” said Mr. Nelson, chuckling. “She was having trouble accepting the compliments.”

“Will this thing ever get solved?” posed Mr. Nelson. “There are way too many different theories going on, even 50 years after the fact.”

The only person who knew for an actual fact what happened was Lee Harvey Oswald, said Mr. Nelson. “In 1993, just before the curator of that Kennedy museum died, he made the comment that when he goes to heaven, the first person he wanted to speak with was Oswald. He had a lot of questions for that boy. Three months after that conversation the curator was in heaven from a stroke. I hope he got his answers, assuming Oswald was in heaven to greet him.”

Tom Sasvari