By late July 1963, Oswald foresaw that he would be whacked, just as Ferrie and Sherman were in 1964. He did not know how or when it would happen, but he knew he was vulnerable as the Castro project reached an inconclusive point, and he worked through possibilities for the future. When he went to Mexico City for six days in September-October 1963, he must have considered whether he should try to disappear down there. He came back to be with his two daughters and estranged wife. On Wednesday evening, November 20, he has a poignant farewell conversation on the phone with Judyth Vary. She is in New Orleans, and he calls her from Dallas, she guesses from a phone booth. They talk for an hour and a half. He knows the president’s trip to Dallas in two days likely means the end for him. He has already tried to warn the FBI about the plot against the president in Chicago earlier in the fall. Now he finds his handlers have placed him in the Texas School Book Depository.

Lee Oswald worked for both the CIA and the FBI through all of these eventful months, but he could not trust anyone in either of those organizations. When the Dallas police arrested him on Friday afternoon, November 22, the arrest did not come as a surprise. He cried, “This is it!” as police pulled him from his seat in the Texas Theater, where he went to lie low after the enormity in Dealey Plaza. He likely did not know that J. D. Tippit had been killed in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. The route he took from Dealey Plaza to his room on North Beckley Street, and then to the Texas Theater on West Jefferson Boulevard, did not traverse the neighborhood on East 10th Street where Tippit died.

Once you realize that Oswald worked for the CIA and FBI, and learn what he did for them, questions about Kennedy’s assassination begin to resolve themselves.

When you consider Oswald’s experience during the forty-eight hours between his arrest on Friday and his murder on Sunday, November 24, you understand why he looked the way he did. Interrogated during the night and day, beaten about the face for no reason other than brutality and revenge, paraded in front of journalists and television cameras as the most hated man on the planet, friendless and without counsel, Oswald had to operate on his own. He suffered unbidden infamy without assistance. In this light, he does not look smug, and his apparent smirk looks not irritating, but prescient. He is a dismayed young man caught in a strong net, preparing himself for the worst. If the Dallas police had known he would stand up for himself, that he would volubly declare “I’m a patsy!” they may have been less ready to parade him around like a trophy. Nonetheless, they needed to parade him midday on Sunday, November 24, to give Jack Ruby a good shot.

Once you realize that Oswald worked for the CIA and FBI, and learn what he did for them, questions about Kennedy’s assassination begin to resolve themselves. Vary’s description of Oswald demonstrates what kind of person he was: energetic, intelligent, gracious and brave, savvy and competent. He was mature about the bad marriage he made in the Soviet Union, where he went for the CIA, and hopeful despite his poor prospects back in the States. Marguerite Oswald was right to point out that he was a patriot. He was not a Communist, a dangerous nut, a murderer, or a traitor. Right to the end, he did not reveal his work to anyone. He knew that without an attorney, his situation was as hopeless as it could be. Even so, he did not directly accuse his employers of betrayal. His declaration, “I’m a patsy,” does suggest he grasped the significance of his arrest. He recognized his employers had something to do with Kennedy’s death.

Related books

This article is an excerpt from Infamy: Political Crimes and Their Consequences, by Steven Greffenius.

Me & Lee, by Judyth Vary Baker.