Oswald -- A Driving Force?

Ian Griggs examines the question of whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald could drive


Introduction

Many researchers have addressed the question of whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald could drive. Most appear to have reached the conclusion that he could not. There was never a Driver's License issued to Lee Harvey Oswald --- nor, for that matter, to Alek James Hidell or even to O.H. Lee. There is, however, far more to it than that.

Throughout the testimony, statements and affidavits of witnesses plus official police and FBI documentation and various other sources, there are numerous suggestions that whilst he may not have held a Driver's License, Oswald was certainly capable of driving a car. These suggestions --- and some of them are very positive --- were either totally ignored or given no more than a perfunctory glance by those investigating the assassination and Oswald's background.

In this paper, I do not propose to delve deeply into each individual piece of evidence suggesting that Oswald could drive. Rather than that, I will merely outline a few examples, together with relevant sources and maybe a few brief comments of my own. I then leave it up to the reader to decide on the credibility of each example --- and finally on the overall validity of the sum of these examples. I would be a fool to claim that I have unearthed every example of evidence that Oswald could drive a car. I have, however, listed what I feel are the most important.

Purely for convenience I have listed these examples in the order in which they should logically have occurred --- obtaining a driver's permit, learning to drive, taking a test, etc. As will soon become apparent, however, this was not the sequence in which these events (or alleged events) did occur.

I leave it up to the reader to decide whether these examples apply to the 'real' Oswald or to one or more 'lookalikes'.

"We should get a car, Lee"

The earliest reference I can find to the potential purchase of a motor vehicle by the Oswalds comes on the third page of a Dallas FBI teletext presumably sent to J Edgar Hoover's office. Unfortunately I do not have a date for this document but it appears to marry up with similar communications of early December 1963. It was originally RESTRICTED but was released under the JFK Act on 24th October 1995 [1].

It deals with an interview of Marina Oswald and includes the following paragraph:

"Marina stated she had insisted on several occasions that Oswald buy a car but he objected that he did not have sufficient money to buy it, and, further, the car would require repairs. She knows of no occasion when he saw anyone about the purchase of an automobile or mentioned to her that he had seen someone or intended seeing someone about the purchase of an automobile."

Does the reference to the car requiring repairs indicate that they were discussing a specific vehicle? On 24th October 1963, Michael Paine had paid $200 for a 1955 or 1956 blue and white Oldsmobile sedan which he apparently offered to Lee Harvey Oswald [2]. The second sentence of the FBI teletext extract above is very positive in saying that Lee never did go along with Marina's request. However ...........

Trying to obtain a "learner's driving permit"

On the morning of Saturday 9th November 1963, Ruth Hyde Paine drove to Oak Cliff with Lee and Marina Oswald, their two daughters and her own two children as passengers. There are several available accounts of this important event but I will restrict myself to just one --- that which appears in an affidavit executed by Mrs Paine on 24th June 1964. It contains the following statement:

"On the occasion of Saturday, November 9, 1963, about which I testified before the Commission, when I took Marina and Lee Oswald in my station wagon to the Texas Automobile Drivers Bureau in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas to enable Lee Oswald to make application for an automobile driver's learner permit, each of my two children and both of the Oswald children, June and Rachel, accompanied us.

Upon our arrival at the Automobile Drivers License Bureau, which was located in a shopping center area in Oak Cliff, we discovered that the Automobile Drivers License Bureau was closed ......." [3].

When Mrs Paine had been interviewed by the Dallas FBI on 26th November 1963, she had added that the reason the bureau was closed on the 9th was because that was an election day [4].

This incident, which I have no reason to believe did not occur, is surely an indication of Oswald's serious intention of learning to drive. There is, in fact, a report that he returned to the Automobile Drivers License Bureau the following Saturday (16th) but although "he had arrived before closing time but still too late to get in because there was a long line ahead of him ......." [5].

Learning to drive

The earliest intimation I can find concerning Lee Harvey Oswald being given any sort of driving tuition comes from a letter written in Russian by Ruth Paine and sent to Marina Oswald, living at this time with Lee in New Orleans. It is dated 24th August 1963 at a time when Ruth was staying at the residence of Arthur Young (her husband's step-father) in Paoli, Pennsylvania [6].

The English translation of the relevant paragraph reads as follows:

"Lee told me that he learned a little from his uncle how to drive a car. It would be very useful for him to know how to drive. It is hard to find time for this when he works every day." [7]

During her lengthy testimony before the Warren Commission, Mrs Paine was questioned by Assistant Counsel Albert E Jenner, Jr. about that particular paragraph. He stated that "the Commission is very interested in the subject matter of Mr. Oswald, of Lee Oswald being able to drive a car." [8]. Now why were they so concerned with that?

There exists solid and apparently irrefutable evidence that Oswald was receiving driving instruction from Ruth Paine --- presumably in Ruth's own car, a 1955 light green Chevrolet station wagon, one of three vehicles owned by the Paines [9].

A letter written by Ruth to her mother on Monday 14th October 1963 includes the following passage:

"If Lee can just find work it will help so much. Meantime, I started giving him driving lessons last Sunday (yesterday). If he can drive this will open up more job possibilities and more locations" [10].

There is corroboration of this in the testimony of Michael Paine as the following brief exchange with Assistant Counsel Wesley J Liebeler indicates:

Mr LIEBELER: "Did your wife ever tell you that she had seen Oswald driving a car or she was trying to teach him how to drive a car?"
Mr PAINE: "Yes; she did."
Mr LIEBELER: "Did she indicate what proficiency he had at operating an automobile?"
Mr PAINE: "She thought he was, she observed how much one has to learn in order to drive a car. He had a difficulty in some manner, perhaps it was in judging when to turn the wheel when parking. And I think she said he over controlled it, turned too far." [11]

In her own testimony, Mrs Paine answers a string of questions about Oswald's driving efficiency [12] and she has this to say about the course of lessons upon which she seems to have embarked with him:

"I offered to give him --- give Lee lessons on Sunday afternoons and we managed to do it a few Sunday afternoons, I think three altogether and there were a couple of weekends when we didn't get the lesson in, something intervened. ..... I think the last lesson was November 10, being the last Sunday." [13]

Taking a driving test?

The following is taken from the Warren Commission testimony of Buell Wesley Frazier, Washington DC, 11th March 1964:

Mr BALL: "From that time until November 22, did he ride home with you every weekend?"
Mr FRAZIER: "No, sir; he did every weekend except one."
Mr BALL: "And why did --- did he tell you why he wasn't going to ride home that weekend?"
Mr FRAZIER: "Yes, he did. He said he was working on his driving license and he was going to take a driving test."
Mr BALL: "Did you ever ask him afterward if he had taken his driver's test?"
Mr FRAZIER: "No, sir; I never did. I assumed that he had taken it and passed it what part of the test he was taking." [14]

A little later in this testimony, there is the following:

Mr BALL: "Did you ever talk to him on whether or not he could drive a car, knew how to drive a car?"

Mr FRAZIER: "Well, I say, I believe the first afternoon, the first time we was going home and we were talking about that and he said he was working on his driving license then, and then naturally like I told you several weeks later, then he told me he was going to take his driving test and I assumed he could drive a car as being as old as he was because most everybody in the State of Texas by the time you are my age if you can't drive a car something is wrong with you." [15]

Trying to obtain motor insurance

A single-page Dallas FBI report, released under the provisions of the JFK Act on 17th October 1995, deals with an apparent enquiry by Lee Harvey Oswald concerning motor insurance [16]

The report, written on 2nd December 1963, stated that an Edward A Brand had telephoned the office earlier that day and had reported a visit made to his insurance office by an individual identifying himself as O.H. Lee "approximately two weeks before President John F Kennedy was assassinated." Brand's insurance company, known as the Tower Insurance Agency, was situated at 1045 North Zangs Boulevard --- "directly across the street" from Oswald's rooming house at 1026 North Beckley Avenue.

Brand stated that Mr Lee was enquiring regarding automobile liability insurance. However he (Brand) was unable to quote any exact insurance rates as the gentleman said that he did not own a car, but intended to buy one in the near future. Brand suggested that Mr Lee return after purchasing a car.

Let me quote directly from the report:

Brand also was of the opinion the only identification he saw of Lee's was a Texas drivers license, but did not notice if the initials were O. H., but believed the last name was Lee on this drivers license.

Brand concluded by saying he did not immediately recognize Lee Harvey Oswald's photograph in the Dallas newspapers, or on television, until after reading Oswald had in the past used the name Lee, at which time he did recognize Oswald's photograph as being the individual who contacted him regarding insurance under the name of O. H. Lee.

Considering the purchase of a car?

One of the cornerstones of the theory that there was a concerted and determined effort to create a number of "false" Oswalds prior to the assassination involved a well-documented incident centred on the Downtown Lincoln-Mercury agency at 118 East Commerce Street, Dallas. This remains the best-known example of Lee Oswald --- or a deliberately-created lookalike --- driving a motor vehicle.

Albert Guy Bogard was the unfortunate car salesman at the centre of this incident. In his Warren Commission testimony [17], Bogard was certain that the incident had taken place in the early afternoon of Saturday 9th November and he described it thus:

A gentleman walked in the door and walked up and introduced himself to me, and tells me he wants to look at a car. I show him a car on the showroom floor, and take him for a ride out Stemmons Expressway and back, and he was driving at 60 to 70 miles an hour and came back to the showroom. And I made some figures, and he told me that he wasn't ready to buy, that he would be in a couple or three weeks, that he had some money coming in. And when he finally started to leave I got his name and wrote it on the back of one of my business cards, and never heard from the man any more.

And the day that the President was shot, when I heard that --- they had the radio on in the showroom, and when I heard the name, that he had shot a policeman over in Oak Cliff, I pulled out some business cards that I had wrote his name on the back on, and said, "He won't be a prospect any more because he is going to jail," and ripped the card up.

Bogard, having lost what could have been a sale, threw the card away. It was never recovered but he confirmed that the name he had written on it was "Lee Oswald" --- the name given by his potential prospect. Bogard further explained that the car in question had been a red Mercury Comet Caliente, a two-door hardtop, with a $3,000 price tag on it.

In addition to mentioning the speed at which his prospect had driven, he also made the following significant comment: "He might have drove a little reckless, but other than that, he knew how to drive." [18]. Bogard's story was corroborated by his sales manager, Frank Pizzo, and two salesmen, Oran Brown and Gene Wilson, who were present at the time of Oswald's visit. [19]

As stated above, this incident occurred on the afternoon of Saturday 9th November 1963. It was during the morning of that day that Ruth Paine had driven Oswald to Oak Cliff on his unsuccessful attempt to obtain an Automobile Driver's Learner Permit. She was adamant that Oswald had spent the afternoon of that day at her house in Irving. As she said in her affidavit of 24th June 1964:

" ..... all of us entered my home where we remained throughout the balance of that day and evening." [20]

Furthermore, an internal FBI memorandum dated 14th January 1964 authorised the Dallas office to conduct a polygraph examination of Bogard. This was in part due to the fact that "Mrs Ruth Paine places Oswald in her home on 11/9/63 (election day) and states that in her opinion it would not have been possible for Oswald to have travelled to the automobile agency on 11/9/63 as he was not out of her sight for a sufficient portion of that day to have made the trip. Accordingly, it appears that Bogard's story is untrue." [21]

When Bogard took his FBI polygraph test in Dallas on 24th February 1964 "the responses recorded were those normally expected of a person telling the truth." [22].

Unfortunately, however, that was not the result required so "the Commission has placed no reliance on these results." [23]. If that sounds familiar, cast your mind back to what was said when the paraffin test applied to Oswald's left cheek failed to indicate that he had fired a rifle --- it was almost identical!

Reported sightings of Oswald driving

There are several well-documented reports of Lee Harvey Oswald driving a car. I will mention just three. One important alleged sighting puts Oswald in the town of Alice, Texas on 3rd October 1963 but since this incident is currently being examined in depth by my friend and fellow researcher Chris Courtwright of Carbondale, KS, I will not cover it here.

The 'furniture store visit'

This incident is probably the best-known and most frequently quoted in connection with the 'multiple Oswalds' theory. It also includes very strong (and corroborated) evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald drove a car --- if, indeed, it really was Oswald! Funnily enough, the incident came to light through the curiosity of a prominent British journalist, Lady Jean Campbell, the U.S. Political Correspondent for the London Evening Standard. Lady Campbell was normally based in Washington DC but like many other journalists, she was assigned to Dallas immediately following the assassination.

The following account is based on various FBI documents [24] and on Lady Campbell's published piece in her newspaper [25].

On her daily drive from her temporary accommodation to downtown Dallas, Lady Campbell noticed that a shop she passed at 149 East Irving Boulevard, Irving displayed a sign with the words GUN SHOP in red letters above the door. She felt that maybe Oswald could have visited the shop. ("I knew that he was as fascinated by guns as some women are by diamonds.")

Lady Campbell spoke with the proprietor of the shop, Mrs Edith Whitworth, and with her friend, Mrs Gertrude Hunter, who was in the shop at the time. To her surprise, Lady Campbell found that the shop sold second-hand furniture rather than firearms.

In answer to Lady Campbell's query about Oswald, Mrs Whitworth told her that he had visited her shop between 2.30pm and 3.00pm on Thursday 7th November 1963, together with "his wife, their two or three week old infant and an older daughter about two years of age." Oswald enquired whether if he could get a plunger for a gun but was informed that the shop sold only furniture. Mrs Whitworth referred him to the Irving Sports Shop. The Oswalds looked around for a few minutes before leaving.

Lady Campbell stated that Mrs Hunter told her "that when the Oswalds left the store, Marina placed the older child into a 1956 or 1957 two-tone Ford or Chevrolet and then entered the vehicle herself with her infant daughter. Oswald entered the vehicle, sat behind the steering wheel, and turned the vehicle around and proceeded in the direction of the Irving Sports Shop."

According to Lady Campbell, "Mrs Hunter related that Oswald, in doing this, was proceeding the wrong way on a one-way street and had to turn the vehicle around again."

The Irving hairdresser

Clifton M Shasteen was the proprietor of Clifton's Barbershop at 1321 South Storey, Irving. He testified before the Warren Commission that Oswald had his hair cut several times at the shop and that he had personally cut Oswald's hair "three or four times" He had no doubt about this customer's identity and recalled a conversation they had once had about a pair of unusual yellow shoes which Oswald was wearing. Shasteen said that Oswald told him he had got them "down in Old Mexico." [26]

Shasteen's certainty about this man's identity is given great credence by the fact that he knew Ruth Paine by sight and had seen them together.

Midway through his testimony, Shasteen was asked by Assistant Counsel Albert E Jenner, Jr. whether Oswald had ever driven an automobile up to the shop. Shasteen replied: "He drove that there 1955, I think it's a 1955, I'm sure it's a 1955 Chevrolet station wagon. It's either blue and white or green and white --- it's two-toned --- I know that." [27]. There is little doubt that Shasteen was describing Ruth Paine's car --- with Oswald driving it!

Report of Oswald driving Jack Ruby's car!

I consider this one of the oddest, most important and also the most-neglected alleged examples of Lee Harvey Oswald driving a car. It also represents one of the best examples in the whole case of the Dallas Police Department dragging its heels to such an extent that it 'lost' a potentially valuable witness!

An internal DPD report dated 11th December 1963 contained the following:

(A confidential) "source states that she was told by another person that a mechanic from a garage in the downtown area who regularly services Jack Ruby's automobile, had stated that subject (Lee Harvey Oswald) had driven Ruby's car several times prior to the assassination of President Kennedy." [28]

An unattributed footnote rejected the content of the report and stated that "subject did not know how to drive an automobile."

Perhaps because of that footnote, no action was taken for almost three months. Another DPD internal report (dated 3rd April 1964) repeated the content of the first, adding that the mechanic had mentioned that Oswald "had been driving Jack Ruby's automobile for approximately two months and that he (the mechanic) knew this because Oswald had brought Ruby's car to his garage for repairs" [29].

The report named the mechanic as William J Chesher and stated that the previous day, 2nd April 1964, Detectives Biggio and Stringfellow had attempted to contact him (presumably for the first time) but "the officers were informed that subject (Chesher) had died on March 31, 1964 of a heart attack."

Chesher's untimely death was sufficiently suspicious to gain him a place in Craig Roberts and John Armstrong's excellent book on the subject [30].

An admission from the FBI

An "Urgent" teletype memorandum from SAC, Dallas to SAC, San Antonio dated 30th November 1963 opens with a brief item of information on Oswald's return to Dallas from Mexico. It then continues with what is almost certainly a reply to a previously asked query concerning Oswald's ability to drive. At the risk of becoming involved in semantics, I am personally intrigued by the final two words of the second sentence. The presence of those two words in that position tends to imply that Oswald did know how to drive. Judge for yourself:

To date investigation has not reflected that Oswald has ever been in possession of automobile. He does not have a driver/s license and is not believed to know how to drive very well. [31]

Conclusion

Whilst I am not prepared to say categorically whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald had the ability to drive a car, I feel that on the balance of probabilities, it is likely that he could. In this short paper I have merely presented some examples of conduct, sightings and various items of conjecture which may tend to indicate that Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed a driving force.

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Acknowledgements
I must offer my gratitude to Malcolm Blunt, that most stalwart of British researchers, for spending much time and effort in 'liberating' my source documents from the depths of Archive II at Washington, DC.

The willing assistance and encouragement of Chris Courtwright (Carbondale, KS) and Nancy Wertz (San Gabriel, CA) is also acknowledged with thanks.

Ian Griggs,
24 Walton Gardens,
Waltham Abbey,
Essex EN9 1BL,
U.K.

tel: 01992-719805
(from USA) 011-44-1992-719805

email: igriggs@easynet.co.uk

***********


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