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NOLA Lore: New Orleans in the JFK Web

Part One - Lee Harvey Oswald, Crescent City Child

Each week, J.A. Lloyd will take readers through the secret and unexamined legends, myths, and folklore of New Orleans past. This week, learn about the strange role that New Orleans played in the conspiracy surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination as we explore the upbringing of Lee Harvey Oswald. Stayed tuned for further installments in this series, which include the 1967 trial of Clay Shaw by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison and further connections between the Crescent City and what occurred in Dealey Plaza. 


Over 50 years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, theories and speculations still shroud the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963. A great majority of Americans still believe conspiracy and foul play surround Kennedy’s death, with the number of theorists steadily growing as the years climb on. For a great many people, the magic bullet theory just doesn't make sense; it is too tidy a conclusion for such a messy international event. Of the overwhelming amount of theories that currently exist, some of the most popular include ties and claims to the following players: Fidel Castro, Yankees player (and ex-husband of JFK's rumored consort Marilyn Monroe) Joe DiMaggio, the KGB, Lyndon B. Johnson, the CIA, and the Mafia. What is important is that these conspiracies point to a bigger picture that involved many individuals, and not just the accepted verdict that it was one bullet shot by one man. New Orleans manages to find its fingerprints on some peculiar issues related to John F. Kennedy’s death, mainly in connection to the man known as Lee Harvey Oswald.


Just hours after JFK's assassination, 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested — at first, for the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit before quickly becoming the main suspect in the President's assassination. A 48 hour interrogation yielded, strangely, no recordings or shorthand transcripts. The life of the alleged killer was cut short when, two days after his arrest, Oswald was fatally shot by club owner and police informer Jack Ruby.  Since Ruby took the law into his own hands, Oswald would never be officially charged or convicted for the assassination of the President. This slaying also ensured, as many conspiracy theories state, that Oswald would never be able to speak of his role as the sucker in the spider web that caught JFK.


Though his death took place in Texas, Oswald’s life began in Louisiana. He was born in New Orleans on October 18, 1939. Raised by a single mother (his father died of a heart attack just two months before Lee was born), Oswald spent his early childhood on the move living in nearly every corner of the city. His first home was in the Upper 9th Ward, and the family lived at 2109 Alvar Street until 1940 when he was still just a infant. Marguerite Oswald then moved her family to 1242 Congress Street. Though his two older brothers John and Robert lived at the Infant Jesus Catholic Boarding School in Algiers (and later the Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Orphan Asylum), the Oswalds called this Bywater location their home until early 1941. Then, the family moved on to 1010 Bartholomew Street, another Bywater residence where they lived until January 1942. 


Marguerite then reportedly moved with Lee to a nearby house at 831 Pauline Street. According to the book Lee Harvey Oswald's Cold War Vol 1, Marguerite reportedly shared the Pauline St. house with a Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Roach, which author Greg R. Parker connects to a known FBI agent named Thomas Leach, though this claim was not verified in the Warren Report commissioned by President Johnson. The rest of 1942 was spent in a home near City Park, a residence owned by his aunt located at 111 Sherwood Forest Drive. In December 1942, Lee joined his brothers at the Orphan Asylum, where he lived until January 1944. Lee then moved on to Dallas and New York City before returning to New Orleans in his first year of high school.


According to the Warren Commission Report, it was during his return to New Orleans that he first became interested in Communist literature, forsaking school and friends in favor of his more radical interests. The Oswalds lived for a few months in 1954 with their relatives in Lakeview at 757 French Street upon their return to the Crescent City. An FBI report listed Lee and his mother living in the Garden District as of May 1954 at 1452/1454 St. Mary Street. In the spring of 1955, Oswald lived in a second floor apartment at 126 Exchange Place in the French Quarter with his mother, who admittedly could "exercise[] little control over him," according to the Warren Report.


Reports of Oswald during this time vary greatly, as he is equally described as shy and aggressive. In the FBI document, Oswald acquaintance Julian Evans stated that Lee "appeared to be a quiet fellow who did not associate much with the neighbors" and that he "could not remember any close associates which Oswald had during the period of time he resided at 1454 and 1452 St. Mary Street," but did mention a time that Oswald came home appearing to suffer wounds resulting from a fight. Another friend named Edward Voebel is quoted in the Warren Report as dubbing Oswald "bashful about girls," and then citing an incident when Oswald hatched a plan to break into a Rampart Street store and steal a pistol. 


After joining the Marine Corps at 17, Oswald more seriously studied Marxism and while he was stationed in Atsugi, Japan for approximately two years, he began to further develop his self-confidence and vocalized his radical ideals. It was during this time he earned the nickname “Osvaldovich” for his open interest in Socialism. After being discharged from the Corps just a few years after enlisting, he lived for a bit in Texas before returning to his hometown of New Orleans. 


After a brief stay in the Crescent City, he moved again — this time, however, Oswald no longer wished to remain on American soil and set his sights on Russia. On October 15th 1959, the day after he arrived in Russia, Oswald attempted to give up his American citizenship. As his political priorities had shifted from Socialist viewpoints to identifying more closely with the Communist Party, he applied for political asylum and Russian citizenship. In reference to America, he stated that he had become dissatisfied with living in a Capitalist country in which its citizens were slaves. To Oswald’s dismay, his request to stay in Russia was denied. Believing his dreams to be shattered, he attempted suicide in response to the prospect of returning to the American Capitalist way of life. A few days after Oswald’s suicide attempt, officials in Russia changed their ruling on his request and granted him a temporary residency permit to stay in the country.


Oswald was permitted to live in Minsk, where he ultimately lived for two and a half years. He arrived in the Belarusian city in January 1960 and by March the local city authorities gave Oswald a low-level steel-working job at a radio factory. It is said that Oswald often complained about the small pay of the job even though he was reportedly also receiving money from Russian officials. According to Russian reports, the money was given to Oswald as “humanitarian aid” from the Red Cross in order to cover his expenses while living in the country. Additionally, Oswald had received an apartment in a respectable part of town while most other Soviet citizens struggled for years to obtain more substantial housing. Coincidently, it was also during the years of 1959-1962 that the Soviet Union’s primary security organization, the KGB, closely monitored Oswald’s stay in the USSR.  


Approximately a year into his stay in Russia, Oswald, in an uncharacteristic move, wrote to the U.S. Embassy stating that he wished to return home. After Oswald alerted Russian authorities of his intent to return to America, it is said that all additional funding for his stay in Russia ceased. A year after the request was made, with help and funding from the U.S. State Department, Oswald returned to America along with his wife and young daughter.


There is no record that the U.S. Government questioned Oswald’s return to America, even though he held open Communist, Socialist, and Marxist political views. Oswald was allowed to reenter the without issue and the family spent a year in Texas. It was in April 1963 that Oswald is suspected to have become embroiled in his first political assassination attempt. On the evening of April 10th, Army officer Edwin A. Walker was shot with a single bullet while sitting in his home. Until JFK's shooting, Dallas police had no suspects in the attempted murder of Walker, though it is now widely believed that Oswald was the would-be assassin. In the Warren Report, Oswald's wife Marina testified that she encouraged him to leave Dallas in favor of New Orleans "because of the Walker incident." 


Oswald relocated back to his home of New Orleans in April 1963, staying again with family at 757 French Street where he was noted for expressing an above-normal interest in the Oswald family history. His wife and child later joined him, and together they settled into a house at 4905 Magazine Street. He worked briefly as a greaser before becoming involved with the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee, an activist group operating out of 544 Camp Street which — coincidentally — had known connections to the office of William Guy Banister, a former FBI employee and private investigator with ties to the Mafia who would become a central figure in DA Jim Garrison's trial on the JFK assassination. The location of Fair Play for Cuba shared an address beyond that of 544 Camp Street. Its side entrance around the corner had the address of 531 Lafayette Street, the known address of Banister's office. 


Some of the only known footage and public photography of Oswald comes from his work with Fair Play for Cuba, as he was documented handing out leaflets about the organization on Canal Street in August 1963 and even appeared on local radio stations like WDSU. 


Oswald’s move to New Orleans was just seven months prior the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and he moved in the same streets as alleged Kennedy conspirators Banister and his associate David Ferrie, and his eventual murderer Jack Ruby. Though it might be a simple coincidence of chronology, there are those who believe his move to the Crescent City played a vital role in the events that would take place on November 22nd, 1963. Certainly New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison was one of them. In 1967, he brought local businessman Clay Shaw to court in the only trial connected to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As the 50th anniversary of the trial rolls on, stay with NoDef for a further look in to New Orleans' connection to the death of JFK. 



Oswald handing out "Fair Play for Cuba" flyers on Canal Street in New Orleans, courtesy of the Warren Commission 


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