The Jason Bourne thrillers have a lot of plot elements that pull you in: amnesia and discovery of one’s identity, close calls and exciting escapes. One of the more compelling narrative lines is Jason Bourne’s success as David against the government’s gargantuan criminal enterprise: CIA’s Goliath. He starts out as a patriot, and ends in a simple fight for survival. He foils all of his employer’s efforts to kill him.
Real life for Lee Oswald did not follow the Jason Bourne narrative. Goliath in Washington crushed David in Dallas on November 24, 1963. Part of the difference was that Oswald did not have amnesia, so he was unwilling to leave his young daughters to go underground. Nevertheless, Oswald knew what was coming.
Lee’s mother, Marguerite Oswald, declared – improbably at the time – that her son died in the service of his country. Even now that seems an incongruous thing to say, even if you know that Oswald was an agency asset set up to take the blame for the president’s murder. The CIA was happy to have Oswald run a fake Fair Play for Cuba operation in New Orleans, even as Oswald and David Ferrie worked on a project to inject Fidel Castro with malignant cancer cells. Does that sound like another fantastic plot to come out of the CIA’s Operation Mongoose? Do not discount it. Because of Oswald’s low-level involvement with super-secret intelligence operations, he was the perfect patsy-villain for the operation that unfolded in six seconds of gunfire in Dealey Plaza on November 22.
The people who betrayed Oswald and made him a scapegoat knew their business. Scapegoats are vulnerable and ostracized: no one will speak for them at the time. They are completely alone, as Oswald assuredly knew when he pleaded for an attorney during his last forty-eight hours. Instead of letting him meet with an attorney, the Dallas police beat him.
‘If all those conspiracy theories were correct, someone would have talked. Where are they?’ A simple answer is that people have talked.
As you learn about who Oswald was, the more you understand why he looks the way he does in photographs taken after his arrest on November 22, 1963. In particular, you come to understand the shape and expression of his lips, interpreted at the time as a smirk, along with the look in his eyes. You see a smart young man, a doomed scapegoat, coming to terms with the treachery practiced against him. He knows what’s coming, yet he doesn’t want to believe it.
Many argue, “If all those conspiracy theories were correct, someone would have talked. Where are they?” A simple answer is that people have talked. Often, people who know the truth suffer ostracism and even death, in the same way Oswald did. Judyth Vary Baker waited forty-five years to tell her story, and Lee’s story. Baker had an affair with Lee in the summer of 1963. She worked with David Ferrie, Mary Sherman, and Lee Oswald in New Orleans during that summer. In a year, Oswald and Sherman would be dead. Ferrie would die early in 1967. Judyth Vary was the only one to survive. We are lucky she lived, for the memoir she published in 2008 tells a story no one else could tell. Her story explains Oswald’s fate. It exonerates him, and shows how he found himself, in the middle of a November afternoon in Dallas, accused of murdering the president.
Vary’s memoir, Me & Lee, sports what is supposed to be a tantalizing cover. Flip past the cover expeditiously. The cover shows little respect for the author: it suggests you are about to read a dime novel or second-rate romance, with the promise of sex in hot New Orleans. The memoir’s content is entirely different. Vary explains, by virtue of her detailed account of Oswald and his work, why Oswald could not have been the president’s assassin. She also explains how Oswald found himself in a position where the Dallas police and the FBI could accuse him of the murder.
This article is an excerpt from Infamy: Political Crimes and Their Consequences, by Steven Greffenius.
Me & Lee, by Judyth Vary Baker.