An Assassin's Final Memento

Marina and Lee Harvey Oswald
Marina and Lee Harvey Oswald

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy faded further into the mists of history on November 27th with the death of Robert Oswald, the last survivor of all nine siblings of Lee Harvey Oswald and his killer Jack Ruby. Now, the final personal item that Robert still had from his notorious brother is being sold in an online public auction.

Whatever one believes about a lone gunman or possible conspiracy, there is little doubt that Lee Oswald fired his rifle from the Texas School Book Depository on November 22nd, 1963, and no question that Jack Ruby shot Oswald two days later in the world’s first live, televised murder.

The brothers and sisters of these two pathetically failed men from deeply dysfunctional families knew them best, and essentially became collateral damage in the aftermath of the assassination. Their lives were dramatically altered in an instant, through no fault of their own.

One of Ruby’s nephews, who was 12 years old on the day Uncle Jack blasted his way into infamy, remembers sitting with his mother on the couch as Ruby’s name was announced on TV. “Did you ever hear the expression ‘the color drained from her face’? Well, I literally saw my mother’s face go from flesh to green,” he recalled.

Oswald’s older brother Robert and half-brother John, and Ruby’s seven siblings, were all soon besieged by reporters and law enforcement officials. Most later had to testify before the Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy’s death. And in the decades that followed, some of them made killings of their own by auctioning off artifacts from their now-nefarious brothers. Most notably, in 1991, Earl Ruby sold the .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver that Jack used on Oswald for $220,000.

Earl won that weapon after a long legal battle, and invited me to meet him in Dallas the day he retrieved it; I soon showed it on television for the first time since the moment Jack fired it in 1963.

Steve North with Jack Ruby’s gun
Steve North with Jack Ruby’s gun

My curious relationships with both the Oswald and Ruby families began in 1976, when I convinced Lee’s mother Marguerite to be interviewed on film for an ABC TV show, and booked Jack’s sister Eva Grant for a live appearance on the same program.

I chronicled my five years of interviews with the unhinged Marguerite Oswald on the 50th anniversary of the assassination in this article. During that period, Eva introduced me to her brothers Earl and Sam Ruby, telling them they could trust me to be fair in my reports. I visited them in their homes and businesses, and they periodically gave me some of the detritus of their brother Jack’s life: stationary from the nightclub he owned, his business cards (adorned with stripper photos), along with signed checks and receipts.

I didn’t know Robert Oswald nearly as well, but spoke with him at length several times in the decade after his mother Marguerite’s 1981 death. The brothers were close, but in a letter to Robert, Lee wrote “You have no idea who I am”. “I think that was in his first letter from Russia”, Robert told me. “If you ever get a chance, read all his letters from Russia to me, and you’ll see the picture change. I’ll just leave it at that”, he concluded, somewhat mysteriously.

Robert and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, 1944
Robert and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, 1944

Robert, a polite and soft-spoken salesman for a brick company, agreed with my assessment that Marguerite was eccentric, if not downright deranged, and told me about visiting Lee the day after the assassination. “I saw Lee in the Dallas jail that Saturday, and one comment still stays with me. He didn’t want to see our mother.” She showed up anyway.

Realizing that he was denigrating Marguerite, Robert said “I’m not trying to bash her down. That’s just the way she was. You’ve really got to understand what motivated my mother in her devotion, for lack of another word, to herself, reflected through what Lee did”.

“There was an early quotation that comes to mind at this point”, Robert continued, “that she made in 1964, and you never heard it later on. (She said) ‘If it wasn’t for me and the grace of God, Lyndon Johnson wouldn’t be president’. Now, what was she saying there?!”

Robert, who agreed with the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee was the lone gunman, attributed his own sanity to the fact that his father was alive until he was nearly six years old. But Robert Sr. died suddenly two months before Lee’s birth in 1939, leaving the new baby’s upbringing entirely to Marguerite.

Although he presumably had other reasons as well, Lee escaped his difficult existence with his unstable mother by temporarily defecting to the Soviet Union, where he met and married Marina Prusakova in 1961. In October of that year, Lee wrote to Robert, telling him about his new bride, and mentioning she had given him a “beautiful gold and silver cup with the inscription ‘To my Dear Husband on his birthday, 18/X/61’. Very nice, huh? She is sweet.” The inscription is in Russian, and the letter later became Exhibit 306 of the Warren Commission’s report.

Robert never actually saw the cup until a month after Lee’s murder.

Two weeks before his own death in November, Robert consigned the memento to be sold, writing, “Marina gave me the cup in the original box in late December, 1963. She said, ‘Lee would want you to have it’, and I asked her if she was sure and she said ‘yes’. I thanked her for the cup. It has been in my possession ever since that time.”

final photo of Robert and Lee Harvey Oswald, taken on Nov. 22nd, 1962, one year before the JFK assassination
final photo of Robert and Lee Harvey Oswald, taken on Nov. 22nd, 1962, one year before the JFK assassination

The cup is being auctioned by Herman Darvick, the autograph and memorabilia dealer who sold Jack Ruby’s gun in 1991, and later even managed to find buyers for Lee Oswald’s two hospital toe tags. Darvick is listing it on eBay with a “Buy It Now” price of $20,000. Those interested can also make an offer.

The profits will go to the family of Robert Oswald, who was an 83-year-old great-grandfather at the time of his death. He rarely discussed his brother or the assassination with his two children, but when I asked him if they’d had problems in school, given their last name, he said “There were certainly challenges in their lives that were character builders”.

And when I wondered how Robert himself managed to achieve some normality in a life that had been upended by his brother’s monstrous deed, he conceded it had not been easy. Being in this kind of situation, he sighed, “did not come with any instructions guide”.

The Lee Harvey Oswald cup is now listed by DarvickAutographs on eBay as item number 352237559405.

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