Posts Tagged ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’

How a 21-year-old Texas college student became Lee Harvey Oswald’s only friend

Friday, October 14th, 2022

Paul R. Gregory, an economist and Slavic scholar, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is also Cullen Professor Emeritus in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston. He is the author are Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives (Hoover Institution Press, 2013), Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010), Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives (Hoover Institution Press, 2008). Now he is the author of The Oswalds: An Untold Account of Marina and Lee, out on Nov. 15 with Diversion Books.

Book Haven readers will remember his earlier account of the events of 1963 in The New York Times Sunday Magazine here. We’ve also written about his account of Lenin’s brain here. And his account of Women of the Gulag here and here. And Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin’s Kremlin here.

He recalls, “remarkably, Lee’s actions on November 22, 1963, did not surprise me. Rather, it was as if the pieces of a puzzle were falling in place as I saw him brought handcuffed and bruised into the Dallas police station.”

This is his first book-length discussion of his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald and his Russian wife Marina. He has offered the Book Haven an introduction to the book and some short excerpts:

As a 21-year-old college student, I returned to my hometown of Ft. Worth for the summer of 1962. At the same time, an ex-marine defector to the USSR returned the Ft. Worth with his wife and infant daughter. I was thus thrown into the life and troubled marriage of Lee and Marina Oswald, as Lee struggled to fulfill his dreams of fame and Marina was introduced to a new life in the United States. Through the pretext of Russian language practice, I became a frequent visitor as they settled into their run-down Mercedes Street duplex. As their only visitor besides Lee’s brother, I got hints of Lee’s visions of grandeur, abuse of Marina, and her scornful dismissal of her “loser” husband. It was through my initiative that we introduced the couple to the “Dallas Russians,’ who took an immediate dislike to Lee, as they became determined to free Marina from her unfortunate husband.

I returned to college, and the Oswalds moved to Dallas. Other than reports from Dallas of Lee’s outrageous behavior, I did not hear or see them until shortly before Thanksgiving, as Lee used me as a pawn to get Marina to move back in with him. My last image of Lee and Marina was them running to the Dallas bus at the Ft. Worth bus station on Thanksgiving Day 1962. My next image was November 22, 1963, as a bruised Lee was dragged into Dallas police headquarters to my shock and horror. Sitting in front of a TV screen at Norman, Oklahoma, I immediately understood that Lee had done it, and why, and that he had done it alone. I had ample opportunity to express my reasons before the US Secret Service and the Warren Commission. I was picked up early morning the day after the assassination as a ”known associate” of one Lee Harvey Oswald.

Economist, Slavic scholar Paul Gregory today

This book combines my experiences with Lee and Marina with the testimonies found in the tens of thousands of pages of the Warren Commission report, a reading to Lee’s largely unknown writing on socialism and communism, and Oswald’s KGB file. Some of the most important insights come from my father’s account of translating for Marina at a hideout arranged by the Secret Service in the week following the assassination as the FBI and Secret Service clashed and Lee’s mother went off the rails.

I largely refrained from writing on my experiences with the Oswalds because my parents both considered our association with a Marine deserter and communist to be shameful and best not talked about. Virtually everyone I write about is now gone; so it is time to tell the story.


That the Warren Commission’s lone assassin—Lee Harvey Oswald—was an unaccomplished, poorly educated misfit continues to feed the public’s skepticism. Nonentities do not change history. By this line of reasoning, we should be leery of the lone gunman conclusion unless we can explain with firsthand detail and confidence how Oswald could gun down the world’s most heavily guarded figure using only his own meager devices. And that’s what this book is about. It asks whether our “intimate” portrait of Oswald conveys in him the motive, resources, cunning, and killer instinct to have indeed changed our history as he fired on the president’s motorcade passing below him.

I would not be writing this book had I not known Lee Harvey Oswald personally. From June through mid-September of 1962, I was the sole companion of Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald outside of Lee’s immediate family. I visited this young married couple often in the duplex where they settled after Lee’s return from his defection to the USSR.


On their wedding day. (National Archives)

At 2:01 p.m., an excited reporter, located at Dallas police headquarters, shouted out on camera: “They are bringing in a suspect!” The TV showed a short man, disheveled in a white, V-neck tee shirt and dark trousers. He was surrounded by police officers. His face was bruised, and one eye was black. I stared in utter and stunned disbelief. It was clearly Lee Harvey Oswald! I muttered mainly to myself in shock: “I know that man.”


MR. JENNER (Warren Commission Deputy Counsel): Now, you were seeking to report to us the friends and acquaintances of your brother and your sister-in-law subsequent to their return to the United States in June of 1962. Now, who next in addition to Paul and [his father] Peter Gregory?

MR. OSWALD: None, sir.



The army of assassination buffs are wasting their time on missing bullets, Oswald doppelgangers, and Soviet, Cuban, or Mafia assassinations. We need to look no further than Oswald himself. We must ask how this “little man” with megalomaniacal ambitions mustered the wherewithal to kill the ideal target for someone who wanted to go down in history books.


As someone who has worked professionally with Soviet state and party documents for over a decade, the Yeltsin documents appear authentic to me. We learn that Oswald’s case was dealt with at the highest levels of the Politburo and KGB—not by the local passport office as I had previously thought. The original USSR counterattack eventually implicated the Gregorys in a “White Russian Conspiracy.”

This Soviet version remains an active thread in the JFK conspiracy portfolio. I guess Pete and Paul Gregory are still under suspicion of some kind in some quarters.

Agent Nielson bored in on whether Lee could have been part of an organized conspiracy. I answered that I had no evidence pro or con, but I volunteered that if I were to organize such a heinous crime, the last person on earth I would include in the conspiracy would be Lee Harvey Oswald. I stated that Oswald marched to his own drummer. He could not be relied upon, and he would not take kindly to orders from others. This personal opinion somehow did not make it into the official transcript of my remarks, but I am sure I said it.



“My friendship with him was perhaps the longest he’d ever had.” Stanford’s Paul Gregory on Lee Harvey Oswald

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

gregory_paulr_biophotoI’ve known Paul Gregory for several years (and written about him here and here and here) –  I know him as a compelling writer, a fine Russian scholar, and the author of books on the women of the U.S.S.R.’s gulag, Nikolai Bukharin, and Lenin’s brain. He’s mentioned before that he knew Lee Harvey Oswald, but I certainly didn’t know how well until I read today’s story in the New York Times Magazine. I also learned of his unusual donation to the Hoover Archives – more on that below.

Like everything Paul writes, the current NYT story is an excellent read.  It’s also a profoundly sad one, the story of an insecure and misguided misfit’s attempt for grandeur, and how an unlucky confluence of events led him to shoot and kill President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.  It’s also the story of his wife, Marina Oswald, a confused and abused Russian wife pulled into an international crisis before she knew more than a handful of English words and phrases.  So many theories have been spun around the assassin since – after reading this, the theories seem bigger than the man.

But I’ll let Paul tell the story:


Oswald arrested at the Texas Theatre

It was 7 a.m. on Sunday when the single phone at the bottom of the stairs echoed through my parents’ red-brick house, right off Monticello Park in Fort Worth. “Mr. Gregory,” a woman said as my father picked up, “I need your help.” Who are you? he asked in his Texas-Russian accent, still half-asleep.

The caller said only that she had been a student in his Russian language course at our local library, and that he knew her son. In that instant, my father, Pete Gregory, linked the voice to a nurse who sat in the back of his class and had once identified herself as “Oswald.” Until this phone call, he hadn’t realized that she was the mother of Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union only to return two and a half years later with a Russian wife and a 4-month-old daughter. My father helped Lee and his young family get settled in Fort Worth a year earlier. The Oswalds had been my friends. …

time-coverMy father recounted that weekend’s events to me a few days later over Thanksgiving dinner, when I returned home from the University of Oklahoma, where I had just begun graduate school. Through my father, I had become a close — or, as Robert Oswald would later say, almost the only — friend of Lee and Marina Oswald’s from virtually the moment they arrived in Fort Worth, in June 1962, until the end of that November. While that five-month period might seem fleeting, it was a significant period in Oswald’s life. He was never in the same place for long. By age 17, he had already moved some 20 times. Then he dropped out of high school and joined the Marines, before being released and traveling to Moscow. He avoided deportation by attempting suicide and was sent to Minsk, where he met Marina. In the year and a half after he returned to the United States, he moved several more times. My friendship with him was perhaps the longest he’d ever had.

My family tried to put those tragic events behind us, but over the ensuing decades, as I became an academic and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, I felt compelled to combine my memories and the historical record to present my own sense of Oswald. Most Americans believe that Oswald shot Kennedy. Yet according to one recent A.P. poll, only a quarter of Americans believe that one man acted alone to kill Kennedy. “Would Oswald,” as Norman Mailer wrote, “pushed to such an extreme, have the soul of a killer?” As I pored back over those months, I realized that I was watching that soul take shape…


A postcard from the Oswalds (Photo: Hoover Archives)

Read the rest here.  But this fascinating postscript is not in the New York Times – Paul has just made a valuable  donation to the Hoover Archives.  The story behind it:  Young Paul Gregory began taking Russian lessons from Marina.  Here’s what he says in the article about it on one occasion:  “As I was leaving their house, he raced to the bedroom and returned with a faded pocket English-Russian dictionary that he used during his time in Minsk. ‘Take this,’ Lee told me. Only later did I realize that Oswald was showing off in front of Marina, pointing out that he didn’t need the dictionary but that I did.”  Now that dictionary is at the Hoover archives, thanks to Paul’s generosity.  Read about it here.  Paul also donated the postcard from the Oswalds that may have ended their friendship. Paul had congratulated Marina on her English after receiving the postcard, with a few corrections. Then he got a phone call from the distraught wife:  “’I did not write that letter. Lee did.’ Her tone told me all I needed to know; Lee had been deeply insulted and mortified by my response. Marina then told me she was unhappy. She hinted at physical abuse and explained that she had left him only to reconcile after he pleaded for her to attend Thanksgiving at his brother’s house.”