Ask Judge Smith

Who shot JFK? A look at Lee Harvey Oswald

J. Layne Smith

When he lived in Russia, Lee Harvey Oswald worked as a laborer making cheap transistor radios. Ever impulsive, he married a Russian woman named Marina a month after the two met. They struggled to communicate because neither had a rudimentary command of the other’s native tongue. To compound their marital problems, Oswald abused her. 

Never one to be satisfied, Oswald quickly tired of life in the Soviet Union. Eventually, he denied renouncing his citizenship, and the United States allowed him to return stateside.

Oswald, his pregnant wife, and their infant daughter moved to the United States in June of 1962. Soon after he returned, he bought a revolver, an Italian military rifle, and a rifle scope from a mail-order house using an alias. 

Lacking skills and a work ethic, he had difficulty finding and keeping a job. Unable to afford a car, Oswald lived alone at a boarding house near his workplace on weekdays, while his family lived full-time with a Russian couple at their home. He joined them on the weekends. He kept his revolver at the boarding house and stored his army rifle, wrapped in a blanket, in the Russian couple’s garage. 

In October of 1963, Oswald got a job filling book orders at the Texas School Book Depository building. The week before the assassination, the President’s staff announced his travel schedule and motorcade route. By sheer coincidence, the President’s limousine would drive through Dealey Plaza, by Oswald’s workplace. This route made sense, given the times and locations of JFK’s speaking engagements and Dallas’ traffic pattern. 

Now, let’s consider Oswald’s unusual conduct during the 18 hours before the assassination. He broke his routine and spent a Thursday night with his wife and daughters. Oswald’s marriage was in trouble, and he tried to reconcile. Perhaps if Marina had not rebuffed him, history might have read differently.

Oswald was as tight with a dollar as the bark on a tree, and even though he was a lousy husband, he always wore his wedding ring. That night he left Marina the princely sum of $170 and his wedding ring on her bedroom dresser. Oswald kept less than $20, knowing he would have little use for money again.  Create Account

Before dawn on Nov. 22, 1963, Oswald removed his rifle and wrapped it in brown paper with tape. Afterward, he walked the package over to a co-worker’s home and persuaded him to drive them into work extra-early. When asked what he was carrying, Oswald lied, explaining he had curtain rods for his boarding house room. When they arrived at work, he moved the concealed weapon into the building. 

Next, we will cover Oswald’s workday and other activities on Nov. 22, 1963.

The Honorable J. Layne Smith is a Circuit Judge and author of “Civics, Law and Justice—How We Became U.S.” Send your questions to

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