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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 31: Young Oswald (Part 3)

Updated: Apr 23

Over the last few episodes, we’ve been looking at Lee Harvey Oswald’s youth. We’ve seen that Oswald had a very tumultuous childhood. He moved around all the time, which must have made it hard to make and keep new friends. His mom wasn’t exactly the warmest, most comforting lady. And by the time Oswald was entering Junior High School, he was an only child, with both of his older brothers serving in the military.

 

We’ve also seen a few discrepancies with timelines and locations when it comes to Oswald’s whereabouts. I’m not exactly sure what this conflicting evidence means. But, it does seem like, just when you have your head around Oswald’s background and timeline, there’s another anomaly to deal with.

 

In this episode, we continue looking at Oswald’s background before joining the Marines, including his jobs at Tujagues and Pfisterer Dental Lab. We’ll also take a look at whether Oswald showed any violent tendencies growing up. 

 

Tujagues

 

Oswald entered 10th grade at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans in September of 1955. He dropped out before his 16th birthday (which was October 18).[1] Shortly before leaving Warren Easton, Oswald brought a note from his mother asking for a copy of Lee’s birth certificate and telling the school that the family was moving to San Diego.[2]

 

After he left Warren Easton High School, Oswald used a false affidavit written and signed by his mother which said that he was 17 years old, which was the minimum age to enter the Marines. This was a lie because Oswald had really just turned 16. Somehow the marines found out about Margurite’s fraudulent affidavit and rejected Lee’s enlistment. Oswald spent the next year reading and memorizing the Marine Manual, in anticipation of joining the next year when he really turned 17.[3]

 

The Warren Report says that Oswald worked as a messenger at Tujagues Shipping Company from November 10, 1955 until January 14, 1956.[4] He then started work immediately at J.R. Michels, Inc. as an office administrator in January of 1956, but he only worked there briefly. Oswald then worked at the Pfisterer Dental Laboratory for a few months after that until the family ultimately moved to Fort Worth in July of 1956, three months before Lee was eligible to join the Marines.[5]

 

But the Warren Commission testimony of Robert Oswald does not confirm that timeline of Lee’s employment. Robert, said that Lee was working for an export firm (which is another way to describe what Tujagues did) when Robert arrived to visit in Lee and Marguerite in New Orleans on July 15, 1955.[6]  That would mean he was off by four months versus the time the Warren Report said Oswald started at Tujagues.

 

Frank DiBenedetto, Oswald’s former supervisor at Tujague’s, told the HSCA that “Oswald worked at Tujague’s for a year to a year and a half.”[7] So, his supervisor thought Oswald worked at Tujague’s for 12-18 months, whereas the Warren Report says Oswald worked at Tujague’s for a little more than 2 months.

 

All workers under age 18 were required to obtain a work permit from the Louisiana Dept of Labor. Oswald did get a work permit when he was working at Dolly Shoe Store. But, the FBI said that the department of labor did not have any work permits on file for Oswald’s work at Tujagues, JR Michels, or Pfisterer.[8]

 

As a company that was a customs broker handling international shipments, Tujagues was required to have all employees authenticated by United States Customs. After the assassination, the FBI visited Doris Naccari, who was the head of the Export Control Section within Customs and was responsible for broker employee authentications. She said she had no file on Oswald and did not otherwise remember him.[9]

 

You’ll never believe this, but all of the payroll records for Oswald at Tujagues have disappeared.[10] There is a W2 for Oswald in 1955 for Tujagues that doesn’t list dates of employment. And there are two handwritten payroll ledgers that the FBI says Mr. Tujague provided. It is not possible to know who created the handwritten ledgers or when they were created. These handwritten ledgers are what was relied upon by the Warren Commission.[11]

 

After Tujague’s, the Warren Report says Oswald went to work for JR Michels briefly – they don’t say how long - starting in January of 1956 after he left Tujague’s. JR Michels was a shipping company, just like Tujague’s. And it was located one floor below Tujague’s in the same building at 442 Canal Street.

 

But according to Oswald’s former supervisor, Frank DiBenedetto, Oswald never worked at JR Michels at all. Frank said QUOTE “He couldn’t have worked there. We are on the 3rd floor of this building and they were one floor below us. We were in the same business. I was very good friends with Nick Mazza the manager of JR Michels and was in his offices nearly every day. We went to lunch together often and were good friends. If Oswald had worked for Nick, I would have known it.”[12] DiBenedetto also calls into question the time of year that Oswald quit. He said that he remembered it was hot outside at the time.[13] This does not seem to match up with Oswald quitting Tujague’s in January of 1956.

 

Nick Mazza told researcher John Armstrong that the FBI showed up at JR Michels on Monday, November 25thand asked him about Oswald’s employment records. Mazza told the FBI Oswald never worked at JR Michels. But the agents told him to check the January 1956 payroll records.[14] (How the agents knew to ask him for this information is not known.) When Mazza checked, he found a cancelled payroll check issued to Lee Oswald dated January 20, 1956. Mazza made a copy of this cancelled check before giving it to the FBI. He provided a copy of the check to Armstrong.[15] This check that Mazza gave the FBI has never surfaced in the National Archives or in any of the records releases over the years.

 

Pfisterer Dental Lab

 

The Warren Report says that Oswald worked at Pfisterer Dental Lab as a messenger for several months after his very short stint at JR Michels. That means that Oswald should have been working at Pfisterer sometime between mid-January 1956 (when he left JR Michels) and July 1956 (when he and his mom moved to Fort Worth).

 

The lab created various dental items like crowns, bridges, and false teeth on behalf of local dental offices. Once the custom made product was completed, a messenger boy would deliver it to the local dental office that ordered it.[16] When Oswald started as a messenger boy at Pfisterer he made fast friends with another messenger boy there, Palmer McBride.

 

The FBI interviewed McBride the day after the assassination. And when they did, McBride gave the FBI the baffling testimony that Oswald worked at the Pfisterer Dental Lab with him from December of 1957 until April or May of 1958.[17] That time range cannot be reconciled with the Warren Report’s timeline of Oswald’s life, which puts Oswald overseas in Atsugi, Japan for much of that time. Either the Warren Report is wrong or McBride is seriously mistaken on the timing. Let’s dig a little deeper.

 

McBride’s certainty about the timeline is based on specific events that he can remember during his friendship with Oswald. For example, he told the FBI that Oswald came over to his house a few times where they both listened to classical music records. McBride’s father worked at the New Orleans Opera House and he recalled that he and Oswald attended an opera called “Boris Godounov”. The only times that the opera, Boris Godounov played in New Orleans in the 1950s was on October 10th and October 12th of 1957.[18]

 

Like many of the records relating to Oswald’s background, we have no original documents to establish when Oswald worked at Pfisterer. All that we have is 1956 W2 form that shows that Oswald worked at Pfisterer and was paid $612 in 1956.[19] We have no specific payroll information, employment applications, performance reviews, or any other documents that would help put a time stamp on when Oswald worked at Pfisterer.

 

But, we do have other witnesses – aside from Palmer McBride – who put Oswald working at Pfisterer Dental Lab at about the same time as McBride.

 

Paul Fiorello worked at Pfisterer as a messenger boy from the Spring of 1956 until 1966. He said that “about a year to a year and a half after I started working at Pfisterer’s, Lee Harvey Oswald was hired.”[20] That timeline would equate to sometime in the second half of 1957 –and not sometime from January to July of 1956 like the Warren Report says.

 

Amelda Smith worked in the office at Pfisterer. She recalled that Oswald and Palmer McBride often argued about the merits of communism. She said Oswald and Palmer talked about the recent success that the Russians were having in the Space Race at the time. For context, the Russians had two major space successes in the Fall of 1957 (the launch of Sputnik into orbit on October 10 and putting the first dog into orbit on November 17).[21] There are no comparable Russian space successes during the first half of 1956 when the Warren Report says Oswald was working at Pfisterer.[22] Palmer McBride told the FBI that he also recalled arguing with Oswald about Russian space success.[23]

 

James Vance was close friends with Palmer McBride and was a member of the New Orleans Amateur Astronomy Association. He remembers that he met Oswald through McBride just a few days before the Astronomy Association held a special meeting at Vance’s house to watch the first US Satellite be placed in orbit aboard Explorer 1. That historic satellite launch was on January 31, 1958.[24]

 

McBride told the FBI that Oswald also attended a meeting of the Astronomy Association at the home of William Gehrke in early 1958.[25] The FBI followed up with Gehrke who said that there were no Astronomy Association meetings held at his home until 1958.[26]

 

During that meeting at Gehrke’s house, Oswald spoke positively of communism and angered association member, William Wulf, who told Oswald “If you like Russia so damn much why don’t you just go over there?” When Wulf was interviewed by the Warren Commission he was asked whether he knew Oswald in 1955. His response was “1955, yes. But it is sketchy. I really cannot say for sure. I could get the date from the Astronomy Club’s records.”[27] Years later when interviewed by Armstrong, Wulf recounted the detailed timeline and said that he met Oswald sometime after Christmas of 1957, probably early January 1958. Regarding his Warren Commission testimony, Wulf said “I was just a kid and I didn’t think it mattered whether I met Oswald in 1955 or 1958.”[28]

 

Also, for some reason, the employees of Pfisterer Dental Lab were some of the earliest interviews conducted by the FBI. They interviewed 3 Pfisterer employees on November 23 (the day after the assassination), 3 on November 24th and four on November 25th.[29] 

 

I don’t understand how all of these people can be wrong about the dates when Oswald worked at the Pfisterer Dental Lab, especially when the dates they mention are anchored by historical events – like Sputnik, a specific Astronomy Association meeting, and a traveling Opera - that all have definitive timestamps that are not open to subjective interpretation.

 

Back To Texas

 

In July of 1956 Marguerite and Lee moved once again – this time back to Fort Worth, Texas. They lived at 4936 Collinwood. Robert Oswald had already been living in Fort Worth and moved in with his mother and brother at Collinwood.[30] Having missed almost all of tenth grade the prior year while he was working in New Orleans, Oswald enrolled in tenth grade once again in September of 1956 at Arlington Heights High School.[31] Oswald even tried out for the football team at Arlington Heights, but he was kicked off the team because he was not willing to run wind sprints during practice.[32] According to school records, Oswald dropped out of the 10th grade at Arlington Heights on September 28.[33]

 

Oswald turned 17 years old on October 18, 1956, which made him eligible to join the Marines as long as he had parental permission. He got that permission from his mother and on October 24, Oswald signed his Marine Corps enlistment contract.[34] And with that, his education career came to an end.

 

Was Oswald Violent As A Kid?

 

Over the last few episodes, we’ve mostly focused on the timeline of where Oswald lived and went to school. But, we haven’t really talked about what Oswald was like as a person. What did people who knew Oswald while he was growing up say about him? Specifically, was Oswald a violent kid – and did he ever talk about Communism or Russia?

 

In Episode 29, we talked about how Oswald was violent with his brother John Pic’s wife and his own mother. While Lee and Marguerite were staying in the cramped New York City apartment with his brother’s family, Pic’s wife, Marge, told Oswald to turn the volume down on the TV. Oswald said no and then threatened Marge with a knife. Then, when Marguerite intervened, 12 year old Oswald punched his mom in the face. After this incident, Marguerite and Lee were asked to move out of the Pic’s apartment.[35]

 

On the other hand, there are statements in the record from Oswald’s time in New York that seem to suggest that he wasn’t always violent. Oswald’s brother, John, whose wife had been threatened by Lee, told the Warren Commission QUOTE, “Things were pretty good during the time I was on leave. My wife liked Lee. My wife and I had talked several times that it would be nice if Lee would stay with us alone, and we wouldn’t mind having him.”[36] Oswald’s probation officer in New York, John Carro, was assigned to Oswald after he was found to be truant from school. Carro described Oswald as QUOTE “a bright boy and a likeable one.”[37]

 

In the Spring of 1954, when Oswald was attending Beauregard Junior High School, there was an incident that his homeroom teacher, Myra DaRouse, recalled where he was beat up by some other students. DaRouse said Quote “Harvey didn’t start that fight. He never started any fights. He had no fight in him whatsoever and would always walk away from a fight.”[38] Marilyn Murrett, Oswald’s cousin, said that the reason Oswald was in that fight is because he was riding the bus sitting next to a black student, which was not socially acceptable among some kids at Beauregard Junior High.[39]

 

In the Fall of 1954, Lee got into another fight with some other kids at school. When asked about that incident, his friend Ed Voebel told the Warren Commission, QUOTE “Lee never started any fights, but if you wanted to start one with him, he was going to make sure that he ended it, or you were going to really have one, because he wasn’t going to take anything from anybody.”[40]

 

Here’s Ed Voebel talking to a reporter on November 24, 1963 about this fight:

 

“…[S]omeone had punched him in the mouth that Oswald didn’t know. I didn’t know. I don’t think the boy even knew him. These boys that he had a fight with put this other guy up to punch him in the mouth to get back at him because Oswald did beat the other boys. And Oswald was laying down on the ground and I ran up to him and a couple of other boys did too. And we took him back to the school and we washed his face and put some cold compresses on his mouth.”[41]

 

The fight was serious enough that Oswald lost a tooth as a result of it. Voebel told the Warren Commission, QUOTE “I think he even lost a tooth from that. I think he was cut on the lip and a tooth was knocked out.”[42]Oswald’s aunt, Lillian Murrett, told the Commission QUOTE “there were boys in the back of him and one of them called his name, and he said “Lee” and when he turned around, this boy punched him in the mouth and ran, and it ran his tooth through the lip, so she (Marguerite Oswald) had to go over to the school and take him to the dentist, and I paid for the dentist bill myself.”[43]

 

It's impossible to know just how violent Oswald was as a kid. There is a mixed record. Oswald does not appear to have been out there consistently picking fights with others. Although, according to Voebel, he could hold his own if someone fought him. Remember, we also have Dr. Hartogs in New York saying that Oswald had a QUOTE “personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies.” That doesn’t tell us anything about whether or not Oswald is guilty.

 

But, notably, there are also two instances of Oswald saying that he wanted to kill the president of the united states. That point does not look great for Oswald defenders. If you believe Henry Timmer, the guy who says he hung out with Oswald in North Dakota, Oswald told him QUOTE “someday I am going to kill the president.” Timmer is certain about that statement because he was no longer allowed to play with Oswald after he told his mom what Oswald had said.[44] Oswald told his Pfisterer dental lab co-worker, Palmer McBride, that Eisenhower was exploiting the working people and that he would kill Eisenhower if he had the opportunity.[45]

 

I Led Three Lives

 

One more point on Oswald’s childhood. Robert Oswald wrote a book about his brother in 1967. In that book, he said that Lee was obsessed with the TV show - I Led Three Lives, which is the story of an FBI informant who posed as a communist spy. Robert said QUOTE, “In the early 1950s, Lee watched that show every week without fail. When I left home to join the Marines, he was still watching the reruns.”[46]

 

This statement from Robert seems rather innocuous. So, what, when Lee was a kid, he liked a certain TV show. Big deal! But, the genesis of the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald was a deranged kid living in his own world, who was obsessed with looking cool and being a spy, partially comes from this statement by Robert Oswald. The problem is that Robert Oswald’s statement was impossible. That’s because the show I Led Three Lives debuted in September of 1953. But, Robert Oswald left home to join the marines on July 12, 1952.[47]Now, it would be easy to say that Robert Oswald was only off by a year. So, what difference does it make?

 

When we look at exactly what Robert is saying, it’s that he remembered Lee watching the show when Lee was growing up (which would be the period of time when Robert lived with Lee in Fort Worth, before he moved to New York). But, the show didn’t exist at that time. So, that’s not possible. Robert then says that he remembered Lee watching reruns of I Led Three Lives in July of 1952, more than a year before the show came out. I don’t know why Robert Oswald said this. But, I don’t think it’s just a small mistake. It’s appears to be a complete impossibility.

 

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We’ll have a bonus episode with an interview from Director Barbara Shearer, whose film JFK: What the Doctors Saw is out on Paramount Plus. Then, we’ll be off for a couple of weeks, before returning to focus on Oswald’s time in the Marines. 

 


[1] Warren Report, p 680.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 681

[7] HSCA Testimony of DiBenedetto, Available at John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, CD ROM, at Folder 55-17.

[8] Armstrong at 130.

[9] Commission Document 6, p 42-43, FBI interview of Mrs. Lucille Laguillon by SA Troy Gist, 12/3/63.

[10] Armstrong at 129.

[11] See Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, CD ROM, at Folder 55-16, 55-18, and 55-19.

[12] Armstrong at 139.

[13] Id. at 143.

[14] Id. at 136-137.

[15] Id., CD ROM, at Folder 56-02

[16] Id. at 173.

[17] FBI Report by John R. Palmer of an Interview with Palmer McBride on November 23, 1963, available in Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, CD ROM, at Folder 56-16-19.

[18] Program from Boris Godounov, Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, CD ROM, at Folder 57-29.

[19] Available in Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, CD ROM, at Folder 56-07.

[20] Armstrong at 173.

[22] Id.

[23] FBI Report by John R. Palmer of an Interview with Palmer McBride on November 23, 1963, available in Armstrong, Harvey & Lee, CD ROM, at Folder 56-16-19.

[24] Armstrong at 184.

[25] FBI Report by John R. Palmer of an Interview with Palmer McBride, Harvey & Lee, CD ROM, at Folder 58-02

[26] Id.

[27] Warren Commission Testimony of William Wulf, Jr., 8 H 17.

[28] Id. at 185-86.

[29] Armstrong at 173.

[30] Warren Report at 681.

[31] Id.

[32] Armstrong at 145.

[33] Commission Exhibit 1873-K.

[34] WC Folsom Exhibit 1, p 1.

[35] Id.

[36] Warren Commission Testimony of John Edward Pic, 11 H 38.

[37] Interview of John Carro, Life Magazine, 2/21/64, p 71.

[38] Armstrong at 88.

[39] Warren Commission Testimony of Marilyn Murrett, 8 H 159.

[40] Warren Commission Testimomy of Ed Voebel, 8 H 5.

[41] Ed Voebel Interview, November 24, 1963, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLwcY6pL_G8 at 0:27.

[42] Warren Commission Testimony of Ed Voebel, 8 H 5.

[43] Warren Commission Testimony of Lillian Murrett, 8 H 124.

[44] Armstrong at 70.

[45] Posner, Case Closed, p 17.

[46] Lee: A Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald, by Robert Oswald, p 47.

[47] Armstrong at 42.

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