"Wait right there," said Robert Oswald. "I've got something I want to show you." And with that, Oswald, the older brother by five years of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, disappeared into the pantry behind his kitchen in Wichita Falls, Texas.
A few minutes went by, and the next thing I knew, Robert Oswald was standing in front of me with two guns in his hands.
It was 1993, 30 years after JFK's assassination. I was the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for Life Magazine. One of my predecessors, Richard B. Stolley, was the man responsible for buying the famous Zapruder tape showing the actual assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Because of that, I had always felt that Life had a special franchise on the journalism surrounding the event. Now, three decades later, I decided to interview some of the survivors of the tragedy.
My first stop was Lee Harvey Oswald's widow Marina. But she had proven elusive over the years and for good reason. How could her life ever be the same after her husband was widely believed to have killed the president? She had seldom if ever been interviewed in the years since, and she proved no less difficult to find now.
Then I tried to talk to Oswald's two daughters, June and Rachel, who were infants in 1963 when their father fired the shots from the Texas School Book Depository that killed Kennedy. I found them through their lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they too refused to talk to Life.
Finally, I located Oswald's older brother Robert, who had not been nearly so press-shy over the years. I called him and he agreed to see me for an interview. I flew from Los Angeles to Dallas and then connected for the short flight north to Wichita Falls.
Robert Oswald greeted me at the door of his spacious home. He looked faintly like his younger brother Lee, but his glasses gave him an older, more avuncular appearance. And, of course, it had been three decades since the assassination.
Robert Oswald took me into the kitchen of his home and we exchanged pleasantries over lemonade. Mercifully, since it was still summer, his house was air conditioned against the intense heat of the Texas plains.
After a few minutes, he took out a box of photos. Among them were shots of the family at Thanksgiving in 1962, the year before the assassination, of Lee with one of his daughters on his lap, of the family gathered for what looked like a joyful celebration. I later found out that some of the photos had been previously published, so we never used them.
Then, after a brief hesitation, Robert Oswald told me to sit tight, that he had something he wanted to show me.
When he emerged from the pantry, he was holding two handguns in the palms of his hands.
I was startled, to say the least. In fact, my paranoid fantasies ran wild. if just for a few seconds: Here I was, alone with the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumed assassin of President John F. Kennedy, and he was holding two guns. And in fact, no one knew where I was since I had not checked out of my hotel in Dallas, thinking that this would only be a short trip to Wichita Falls to interview Robert Oswald.
Of course, the guns were not pointed at me, and I think that Oswald immediately saw the concern on my face, however irrational, and he tried to assuage my fear.
"I used to buy these off my bother all the time," he said, referring to Lee. "He would bring them home and I would buy them so he wouldn't do anything with them." In fact, the cylinder of one of the guns was obviously broken and at an odd angle, but I don't remember if Oswald said he'd done it on purpose in order to make the guns inoperable.
We chatted a bit more, and then he put the guns back in the pantry.
A little while later, after another glass of lemonade, Robert Oswald escorted me to the door and I drove back to the airport to catch my flight back to Dallas.
I have never quite believed in the conspiracy theories that surround the assassination of John F. Kennedy, even though imagining them gives rise to some of the more intriguing movies and books that have come out and will continue to flood the marketplace now, as the 50th anniversary draws near.
I had come to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, probably killed Kennedy on that horrible day in Dallas. But when Robert Oswald pulled out the handguns he said he had bought off his brother to keep Lee from using them, somehow I knew. I knew.