Other Voices

Grave error: ‘Hidell’ marker near Lee Harvey Oswald’s Fort Worth gravesite removed

I was looking for Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave in Shannon Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth the other day when I came across a pinkish granite marker engraved with just one name: HIDELL.

For those of you not steeped in JFK assassination history, “Hidell” happens to be the alias that Oswald used to buy the rifle that killed President John F. Kennedy.

The burial place of Lee Harvey Oswald, I discovered, is just 13 paces from the marker that bears the same name as Oswald’s notorious pseudonym. How had the cemetery allowed the markers of the assassin and the assassin’s alias to share such close quarters?

I felt as if Stephen King had dropped by to scare all the Oswald visitors. I ran to the cemetery’s office, hoping to show them a New York Times article on the Hidell-Oswald association on my phone. But the staff there, under strict orders to never disclose the location of Oswald’s grave, didn’t want to hear what I had to say.

I wondered why the Hidell name hadn’t set off alarm bells at the cemetery. No obscure footnote in the history of the JFK assassination, Oswald’s alias is delved into at length in the Warren Commission report. A chapter entitled “The Assassin” discusses how Oswald, using the fictitious “Hidell,” bought both the mail-order Carcano rifle with which he shot Kennedy and the .38 Special caliber Smith & Wesson revolver that he used to kill Dallas police officer J. D Tippit.

Another section, “The Aliases ‘Hidell’ and ‘O.H. Lee’,” describes arresting police finding a forged Selective Service card “with a picture of Oswald and the name “Alek J. Hidell “ in Oswald’s wallet.

“Alek Hidell” was, and continues to be, the darling of JFK conspiracy theorists everywhere, still being analyzed and argued about on Reddit and JFK assassination forums. It also has quite a fan base on social media: Recently I counted 22 Alek Hidells on Twitter, nine on Instagram and 37 on Facebook.

An employee of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza I spoke with wondered if the Hidell marker was a prank. If so, it wouldn’t be the first. In 1997, a marker engraved with the name NICK BEEF suddenly appeared on the plot right next to Oswald’s, sparking endless speculation and fresh conspiracy theories. In 2013, the mystery of the Nick Beef marker was solved when a “nonperforming performance artist” named Patric Abedin confessed to the New York Times that he’d purchased the plot, but didn’t plan on being buried there himself.

I reached out to Dignity Memorial, the cemetery’s parent company. I sent excerpts from the Warren Commission report on the Hidell alias. I said I was pretty sure the widow of Officer Tippit and his children wouldn’t appreciate the Hidell marker’s presence at the cemetery.

Two days later, I received the following email response from Dignity Memorial’s corporate communications office: “We have investigated the matter and in accordance with our rules and regulations, we do not believe that it is appropriate for the marker to remain on the property. It will be removed as soon as possible. Had the cemetery staff known the connection at the time of its purchase, the marker would never have been placed on the grounds.”

The offending marker has been removed, and I’m glad. But given the public’s ongoing obsession with Lee Harvey Oswald, I’m hoping the cemetery is more vigilant about screening out would-be pranksters and other inappropriate graveside candidates in the future.

Victoria Balfour is a former reporter for People magazine and the author of a book, “Rock Wives.” Her articles have appeared in the New York Times; the Washington Post; Vogue and many other publications.