Oswald casket dispute another family torment

Sitting in front of Lee Harvey Oswald's casket are his wife, Marina, left; his brother, Robert; mother, Marguerite; and his two children. The burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery on Nov. 25, 1963.
Sitting in front of Lee Harvey Oswald's casket are his wife, Marina, left; his brother, Robert; mother, Marguerite; and his two children. The burial was in Rose Hill Cemetery on Nov. 25, 1963. Star-Telegram archives

Perhaps Lee Harvey Oswald was never meant to rest in peace.

Maybe because of what he is alleged to have done, he doesn’t deserve to have eternal rest. (I’ll explain later the significance of using the word alleged.)

But what about his family — the mother, wife, children and brother — who gathered at Fort Worth’s Rose Hill Cemetery that Monday afternoon in 1963 to say farewell to a loved one?

After 50 years, isn’t it about time that they have a little peace in their lives without constantly being reminded of the crime their relative is accused of committing?

Almost from the instant those shots were fired at a presidential motorcade in Dealey Plaza, the lives of Oswald’s closest kin were changed forever, although it is reported that his now-grown daughters have managed to lead an “average” existence.

But with the annual anniversary observances of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the never-ending conspiracy theories and the numerous articles, books and films produced on the subject, the adults who were closest to Oswald have experienced their own torment simply because they were related to him.

There was none who felt more persecuted by the constant disruptions than Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, who went to her grave in 1981 still believing her son was innocent — and still wondering why so many others profited from the events of November 1963 while she remained poor.

I got to know her when she made a call to the public television station where I had produced one of those JFK anniversary stories in which I referred to Oswald as the “alleged assassin.” She wanted to thank me for not having condemned her son like so many others had, particularly since he was gunned down before he went to trial.

Just months after her death in 1981, Lee Oswald’s body was exhumed, over the protest of his brother, Robert. A British writer had published a book claiming that Oswald never returned to the U.S. from Russia and the person buried in his grave was a Soviet spy who assumed his identity and killed the president.

Robert Oswald objected, but he relented after a court restraining order was lifted. Lee’s wife, Marina, had agreed to the exhumation to end all the doubts and, she said, to make sure her children wouldn’t have to go through all the things she had endured for years.

A team of experts confirmed that the body in the grave was Lee Harvey Oswald. But the exhumation led to the most recent controversy surrounding the accused assassin.

Oswald was re-interred in a new casket after the original wooden one was damaged in the exhumation.

Rather than the original casket being destroyed as Robert says he thought had happened, a representative of the funeral home kept it in storage until selling it in 2010 through a Santa Monica, Calif., auction house.

The mortuary employee, Allen Baumgardner Sr., who now owns the funeral home named for him, claimed that Robert Oswald didn’t own the casket as he “gifted” it to his dead brother, and that after the casket was dug up, no one came to claim it.

Robert Oswald, 80, had paid for his brother’s funeral, including the $300 casket. And even if he had not, he and Lee’s children are the next of kin.

A Fort Worth judge ruled last week that Robert Oswald was the rightful owner of the casket, and that because of Baumgardner Funeral Home’s “wrongful, wanton and malicious” conduct, it should pay Oswald $87,468 in damages and for the expense of returning the casket from California to Texas.

Robert says he plans to destroy it. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to destroy all the bad memories attached to it.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775

Twitter: @BobRaySanders