Bizarre Things Lee Harvey Oswald's Mother Did After JFK's Assassination

Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald's mother, Marguerite Oswald, became an eccentric celebrity. Courting the spotlight despite her son's infamy, she remained deeply devoted to Lee's memory while enduring intense scrutiny from the press.

In the years following the assassination, many people have looked back at Lee's childhood to try and understand who he was. Growing up, the Oswald household was an unstable one, and the family was frequently in financial trouble. After Marguerite lost her beloved second husband, she tried to start a business and was left destitute when it failed (via the National Archives). She even gave up Lee and his brothers for a brief period while she struggled to make ends meet. Perhaps due to her history of money trouble, Marguerite chased publicity and cash in the years after her son's death.

While Marguerite's statements about Lee have continued to serve as an enticing source of inspiration for those interested in conspiracy theories, some believe her claims about the president's assassination prove she was a cynical grifter. Those more sympathetic to Marguerite's plight argue that her bewildering behavior shows that she was mentally unwell and lost in the throes of grief.

Her reaction to the assassination

Marguerite Oswald's reaction to the death of the president, as well as the death of her son, seemed detached from reality from the very beginning. In interviews with reporters, she would somehow make the tragedy about herself and her finances, establishing her reputation as a cold-hearted hustler. Shortly after Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, Marguerite tried to get a ride to the police station by phoning the local Fort Worth newspaper, the Star-Telegram. The conversion that ensued would later become infamous, when the reporter who answered the phone, Bob Schieffer, retold the story (via Texas Monthly). Schieffer noted that Marguerite showed almost no concern at all about the killing of the president and was completely obsessed with money. Worst of all, she lamented that Lee's wife would probably gain more sympathy than her in the wake of the assassination.

It would not be the last tone-deaf statement to pass Marguerite's lips. After Jack Ruby shot Lee in the days that followed, she complained that Jackie Kennedy had not sent her condolences (via Time). "After all," she said, "we loved Lee just as much as she loved her husband. We're human beings, too. I'm indignant at her, and I resent her thinking we're not as good as she is."

She declared Lee a government agent

Along with legions of conspiracy theorists, Marguerite Oswald publicly claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had done no wrong. In an interview from 1963, Marguerite claimed that while her son was being interrogated, she overheard him repeatedly say he hadn't shot the president — and she accepted it as fact. When the Warren Commission convened to investigate the shooting, Marguerite testified that her son was a scapegoat and CIA agent. Although the grieving mother argued the documents she had given the commission counted as important evidence, Chief Justice Earl Warren objected that she never actually explained why she believed Lee worked for the government and never supplied any relevant evidence.

Did Marguerite really believe her own claim? According to the Smithsonian Magazine, her son John Pic, Lee's half-brother, believed it was all a money-making scheme. On the other hand, Marguerite showed some signs of paranoia, which may indicate she genuinely was frightened of some kind of conspiracy. She refused to ever leave Texas, for example, claiming that the government would not permit it, although she had never been charged with any crime (via NOLA).

Marguerite's conspiracy claims

Marguerite Oswald's strange claims about her son shifted and changed over the years but were no less bizarre. During the 1960s, magazine writer Jean Stafford interviewed her for a book, "A Mother in History." In it, you get a feel for the grieving mother's peculiar character and views.

At times, Marguerite had specifically argued that her son was an innocent scapegoat. But during the lengthy interview for the book, she proposed a wholly different and perhaps more far-out conspiracy theory that her son had done John F. Kennedy a favor by attacking him. "And as we all know, President Kennedy was a dying man," she said. "So I say it is possible that my son was chosen to shoot him in a mercy killing for the security of the country. And if this is true, it was a fine thing to do and my son is a hero." To underline her point, toward the end of the interview, Marguerite showed her interviewer a copper plaque she had inscribed with the words "LEE HARVEY OSWALD EVEN AFTER HIS DEATH HAS DONE MORE FOR HIS COUNTRY THAN ANY OTHER LIVING HUMAN BEING/ MARGUERITE C. OSWALD."

Throughout the interview, Marguerite repeats a number of popular conspiracy theory talking points. For example, she argues that the famous picture of Lee Harvey Oswald holding the assassin's gun in his backyard was a fake.

Oswald's funeral

The funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald was a strange affair that Marguerite Oswald turned into a bizarre publicity stunt. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the funeral service itself proved to be quite short on mourners — the family actually had to ask a group of journalists to act as pallbearers. But it did attract some press attention, and Marguerite Oswald took the opportunity to sing her son's praises. During the service, the grieving mother addressed the TV cameras directly, saying (via Smithsonian Magazine), "Lee Harvey Oswald, my son, even after his death, has done more for his country than any other living human being."

After the service, Marguerite chronicled the funeral itself, writing a memoir entitled "Aftermath of an Execution." The short booklet contains images of the day, as well as anecdotes and quotes from those present at the funeral. The bizarre forward claims that the book was written to give the public a better understanding of the Oswald family.

She sold Oswald memorabilia

Marguerite Oswald conjured up a huge number of money-making schemes that capitalized on the president's assassination. She would go on to sell everything from Lee Harvey Oswald's clothes to recordings of his letters from Russia, which she read aloud herself. Strangest of all, she sold autographed business cards with her name on them, flogging them on a street corner for $5 a piece. According to Texas Monthly, she once even stated she'd like to sell Lee's tombstone.

Although many people found this vulture-like behavior distasteful, Marguerite never saw it that way. She once told reporters, "I am the strongest person in this tragedy, because I have lost everything. But Marguerite Oswald fights the powers. ... This woman was left with no one and no money. Yet she took the bull by the horns and found a way to survive and support herself. Her attitude is correct, and she will rob Peter to pay Paul occasionally. And Marguerite Oswald has survived."

Even at the Warren Commission, Marguerite expressed her anxiety to the judge that none of the pictures she submitted as evidence would be confiscated — citing their potential value to her as a source of income. "I volunteered to help my country in every way possible — to let the Commission have everything that I have," she said. "But you must understand that these are very valuable pictures, sir. I am having people wanting rights to a book, and these pictures are very, very valuable to me."