An Archive of Lawyer’s Notes and Letters Related to the Exhumation of Oswald’s Body in 1981
[JOHN F. KENNEDY.] Archive of materials related to the exhumation of the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, from files of Attorney Jerry M. Pittman, ca. 1980-1981. All in good condition; most attached at top with prong fasteners. Approximately 176 pp., various sizes to 8.5ʺ x 14ʺ.
This group of documents includes notes taken by Dallas attorney Jerry M. Pittman as he represented Michael H. B. Eddowes and then Marina Oswald Porter in the legal effort to have Lee Harvey Oswald’s body exhumed and identified in 1981.
Two days after he shot President John F. Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, Lee Harvey Oswald lay dying on an operating table at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Almost exactly forty-eight hours after doctors pronounced President Kennedy dead, they pronounced his assassin dead as well. Local nightclub manager Jack Ruby had shot Oswald ninety minutes earlier at Dallas Police Headquarters.
After an autopsy that took less than an hour, Oswald’s body was prepared at Miller Funeral Home for burial the next day. In a ceremony attended only by Oswald’s widow, their two daughters, a handful of reporters, and a local pastor who did not know him, Oswald was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth, Texas
Conspiracy theories immediately began around the circumstances of Kennedy’s assassination and the sudden death of his presumed assassin two days later. The findings of the Warren Commission announced in 1964 did little to quell rumors and assumptions.
In 1975, British attorney Michael H. B. Eddowes (1903-1993) self-published Khrushchev Killed Kennedy, in which he asserted that a Soviet agent that looked exactly like Oswald had married Marina Prusakova (b. 1941) in Russia and returned to America in 1962 with his wife and infant daughter. He assumed Oswald’s identity, fooling Oswald’s own mother, and killed Kennedy. Eddowes cited several “inconsistencies” between Oswald’s Marine Corps medical records and his autopsy report as evidence that the man who killed President Kennedy and whom Jack Ruby killed was not Lee Harvey Oswald. In 1977, Eddowes reissued the book in the United States as The Oswald File.
When the Tarrant County, Texas, medical examiner refused to exhume Oswald’s body, Eddowes filed a lawsuit to force the exhumation, but the court quickly dismissed it. Eddowes then turned to Dr. Linda Norton of the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office and suggested that her office could reassert its original jurisdiction over Oswald’s body. Eddowes persuaded Marina Oswald Porter to consent to a private autopsy; she had come to believe that her husband’s remains had been disturbed or removed. After a brief legal battle with her former brother-in-law, a court agreed to order the exhumation.
On October 4, 1981, Oswald’s body was removed from the grave and a team of forensic pathologists and odontologists emphatically identified the remains as those of Lee Harvey Oswald, based on a comparison with his Marine Corps dental records. Eddowes initially admitted that he had been wrong, then inflated his conspiracy theory to involve the swapping of Oswald’s dental records with those of the Soviet agent.
Marina Oswald Porter, Consent to Exhume and Autopsy, Typed Document Signed, August 8, 1980.
“I, Marina Oswald Porter, surviving spouse of Lee Harvey Oswald, hereby authorize Dr. Charles S. Petty, the Chief Dallas County Medical Examiner, to exhume the body buried in the grave marked Lee Harvey Oswald, located at Rose Hill Cemetery, in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas, and perform an autopsy on the remains and all such tests necessary to determine a positive identification of the remains.”
Marina Oswald Porter, Withdrawal of Consent, Typed Letter Signed, August 14, 1981.
“I wish to withdraw my consent to Mr. Michael Eddowes to exhume the body of the Lee Harvey Oswald, because of the following:
“(1) at the time of giving my consent I only wanted to prove that Mr. Eddowes’ theory was wrong;
“(2) to make Mr. Eddowes make an apology to the United States public and to the United States Government.
“After giving my consent a lot of evidence has come to light and I now firmly believe the body has not been in the grave for a number of years. I plan to have the grave opened myself so there is no need for Mr. Eddowes to take up the United States Court’s time and to spare him unnecessary expense.”
Jerry M. Pittman (b. 1949) graduated from the University of Texas-Arlington in 1972 and earned his law degree from St. Mary’s University Law School in San Antonio in 1975. He gained admission to the State Bar of Texas in 1976 and began a law practice in Dallas, Texas, in 1978.
Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, but his father died two months after he was born. In 1944, his mother moved the family to Dallas, Texas. They returned to New Orleans in 1954, where Oswald quit school in 1955 to work as an office clerk and messenger. His mother again moved the family in 1956 to Fort Worth, but Oswald again quit school at age 17 to join the Marines. According to his diary, he already considered himself a Marxist as a teenager. He was trained in radar operation, which required a security clearance. He was twice court-martialed, once for accidentally shooting himself with an unauthorized handgun and another time for fighting with a sergeant. While in the Marines, Oswald taught himself rudimentary Russian. In September 1959, he received a hardship discharge after claiming that his mother needed his care. The following month, he traveled to the Soviet Union, where he expressed his desire to be a Soviet citizen. When authorities denied his request, he slit his left wrist, perhaps in a suicide attempt. He remained in the Soviet Union and worked at an electronics factory in Minsk until 1962. There he met Marina Prusakova, and they married in April 1961. In the summer of 1962, Oswald, his Russian wife, and their daughter immigrated to the United States and settled in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Over the next year, he held a variety of jobs and purchased both a rifle and a revolver. In April 1963, he attempted to kill a retired U.S. Major General who was an outspoken anti-communist. From April to September, 1963, Oswald lived in New Orleans, where he passed out leaflets opposing American interference in Cuba. Late in September, he went to Mexico City, where he applied for a visa to visit Cuba on his way to the Soviet Union. Without Soviet support, he failed to get the visa and returned to Dallas in early October. He got a job on October 16 at the Texas School Book Depository as an order filler. He lived in a Dallas rooming house during the week and visited his wife and daughter on the weekends in Irving, Texas, where their second daughter was born on October 20. One month later, Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy by firing three shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository at approximately 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963. He left the building before police sealed it off and took a bus to his rooming house. He left a few minutes later, and when confronted on a residential street by Dallas Patrolman J. D. Tippit, Oswald shot Tippit four times, killing him. He entered the Texas Theatre without paying, and police arrested him there after a brief struggle. He was interrogated several times over the next two days while in custody. On November 24, while detectives were escorting Oswald to an armored car to take him from the city jail to the county jail, local nightclub operator Jack Ruby shot Oswald once in the abdomen at close range. Oswald was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he died ninety minutes later.
From the collection of Ron Hoskins, assassinologist.
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