Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mystery surrounds Lee Harvey Oswald's ring


A few years ago, a local lawyer noticed a cache of legal papers in a seldom-used file area at his firm – a discovery that set in motion a bizarre and intriguing connection to the day John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Stuffed in with those legal documents was a small gold wedding band. That ring almost assuredly was Lee Harvey Oswald's.

"I don't think anybody has any doubt about that," said Luke Ellis, one of the partners at Brackett & Ellis.

The lawyer in whose files the ring was found has been retired for many years. He is Forrest Marquart, who represented Oswald's widow, Marina, and her two daughters briefly from 1963 to 1964.

"We have tried to get him to talk about the ring and his files, but he has refused," Mr. Ellis said. The retired lawyer, once president of the local bar association, is older than 90 and suffers from Alzheimer's, Mr. Ellis said.

The firm had sent representatives to Mr. Marquart's home "on several occasions" to determine how the ring came to be with his materials, "but he apparently doesn't remember," Mr. Ellis said.

He hopes the ring can be given to some institution where it would be exhibited in a respectful, historical setting.

"I'd hate to see it on eBay," he said.

Friends suggested the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. So Mr. Ellis recently drove to the Dallas museum to have lunch with executive director Nicola Longford and discuss the possibility of donating the ring to that depository of JFK-related materials.

Before the meeting, Ms. Longford said the museum was very interested in obtaining the ring – "if we can work it all out legally."

But shortly after the luncheon in July, Ms. Longford declined to discuss the issue. "I can't discuss what is probably a private matter and may or may not involve the museum," she said. "There are legal issues, and the museum can't be involved. It's an attorney-client privilege issue."

Mr. Ellis said: "I think we'll probably work out something with them. I don't know. I hope we do."

Ring's ownership

The problem is that nobody legally claims ownership of the ring.

Marina Oswald used the services of Mr. Marquart shortly after the assassination to set up and manage a trust fund for her young daughters, June Lee, 2, and Rachel, 2 months. So the assumption is that Marina gave Mr. Marquart the ring as payment for services rendered.

But that is merely an assumption, Mr. Ellis said. "There's nothing there that establishes anyone giving it to him," he said.

Why not get Mr. Marquart to sign a statement that the ring is his and that he doesn't want it?

That might be the answer, Mr. Ellis agreed, "but only if he claims he owns it, and I don't think that he does, though I don't know that he doesn't. We could file a lawsuit, get a judicial determination of ownership, but that's very time-consuming and nobody really wants to do it if you don't have to."

Mr. Ellis said he planned to meet with the Sixth Floor's attorneys to see exactly what they would require to accept the ring.

"They seemed very interested in having it," he said, "but they've got to be satisfied that they are getting it from somebody who can [legally] give it to them."

Marina, who lives near Rockwall, told The Washington Times, where the story was first reported in September 2004, that she did not recall seeing the ring after that tumultuous weekend of Nov. 22-24, 1963.

She did not return calls for comment on this story.

A Secret Service document that Marina signed Dec. 30, 1964, indicates that federal agents returned the wedding ring to her on that date. The Secret Service had been given the ring, the memo said, on Dec. 2, 1963, by Ruth Paine, the Irving woman who had provided a home for Marina.

Priscilla Johnson McMillan, author of the 1964 book Marina and Lee , said she had never heard of Mr. Marquart and couldn't recall Marina discussing him during lengthy interviews with Marina in 1964.

Marina likewise has said she did not recall Mr. Marquart or what he might have done for her.

The argument

Oswald had started wearing the ring after his wedding to Marina Nikolayevna Prusakova in Russia in April 1960. He apparently left it in the Paine bedroom on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, after the Oswalds had argued the night before.

Oswald, who had been renting a room in Oak Cliff, had begged his wife to return to living with him after several weeks' separation.

Two months before the assassination, Marina took their first child, June Lee, to live with Mrs. Paine, a kindly Quaker woman, after Oswald's radicalism in New Orleans led to his arrest and eventual inability to find work. While Mrs. Paine drove the pregnant Marina and June Lee to her home in Irving, Oswald took a bus to Mexico City to try to make his way to Cuba.

That, like most of his other endeavors, failed. Oswald returned to Dallas, where he obtained a job at the Texas School Book Depository.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Paine helped Marina get free medical care at Parkland Hospital, where the second Oswald child, Rachel, was born just weeks before the assassination.

The day before the president's death, Oswald hopped a ride to Irving with another TSBD employee, Buell Wesley Frazier. He surprised Marina, who chastised him for coming on a Thursday evening instead of the agreed-upon Friday.

Oswald begged her to return and live with him. He said they could rent an apartment close to his job and promised to buy her a washing machine. She rebuffed him – harshly, she later admitted – and silently went to bed.

Some students of the assassination have written that Marina's harsh rebuke of Oswald might have influenced what he did a few hours later.

William Manchester, in his book Death of a President, said that Marina's haughty demeanor when her husband spoke of buying the girls clothing and shoes that morning, then quickly falling back asleep without comment, might have been a contributing factor.

"This was the day the chronic failure was going to demonstrate that he could succeed at something, that he was a man and did not deserve contempt," Mr. Manchester wrote.

"Of course, if I had known what was going to happen," Marina later wrote in a narrative for the Warren Commission, "I would have agreed without further thought. Perhaps he staked everything on a card. That is, if I agreed to his proposal to go with him to Dallas, he would not do what he had planned. And if I did not, then he would."

As Oswald got up and dressed the next morning, he tossed out a simple "don't bother getting up" to a half-awake Marina and headed out to meet Mr. Frazier for the ride into Dallas and his job.

Then, the Warren Commission said, he slipped into the Paine garage and picked up the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that had been hidden there.

Back in the bedroom where Marina slept, atop a small dresser in a small cup that had been Marina's grandmother's, he left $187 and the wedding ring.

Ms. Paine, reached in Santa Rosa, Calif., recalled seeing the ring the day Kennedy was shot. But she said she never saw it afterward, "nor heard anything about it."

Among the thousands of Americans who rallied with donations (the largesse reached several hundred thousand dollars), the National Council of Churches organized the trust fund for the two Oswald children. That is apparently how Mr. Marquart got involved, Mr. Ellis said.

Second autopsy

When the ring first surfaced, some said it might have been removed from Oswald in 1981. That year, a British conspiracy theorist, Michael Eddowes, financed a disinterment of Oswald's body from Fort Worth's Rose Hill cemetery, claiming he had proof that the body buried in that grave was not Oswald's, but that of a Russian spy.

A team of veteran forensic scientists, headed by Dr. Linda Norton of Dallas, conducted a second autopsy of Oswald's body and reported that without doubt it was Oswald in the grave.

Dr. Norton explained that examiners found two rings on Oswald – one a small wedding band, the other a ring with a small red stone in it. The rings were re-buried with him. That small ring was "too small even for his little finger [and] could not have been his," said Dr. Norton.

In 2004, Marina said it was her ring – she had slipped it on her husband's finger before the funeral. Marina said she wanted nothing to do with the newly discovered ring. "If somebody has it, let them have it. I don't care," she said.

Robert Oswald, Lee Harvey's brother who is retired and lives in Wichita Falls, said he would be pleased to examine the ring to make sure it was his brother's.

"If the lawyer wants to send it to me, fine," he said. "If not, that's fine also. But it should stay in the family."