Oswald was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps and defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959. He lived in the Belarusian city of Minsk until June 1962, at which time he returned to the United States with Marina, his Russian-born wife, eventually settling in Dallas.
Following the fatal shooting of Kennedy, Oswald was initially arrested for the murder of police officer J. D. Tippit, who was killed on a Dallas street about 45 minutes after Kennedy was shot. Oswald was later charged with the murder of Kennedy. He denied shooting anybody, saying that he was a "patsy". Two days later, while being transferred from the city jail to the county jail, Oswald was fatally shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby in full view of television cameras broadcasting live.
In September 1964, the Warren Commission released it findings and concluded that Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy by firing three shots from the Texas School Book Depository. This conclusion was supported by previous investigations carried out by the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Dallas Police Department. Despite forensic, ballistic, and eyewitness evidence supporting the lone gunman theory, public opinion polls taken over the years have shown that most Americans believe that Oswald did not act alone, but conspired with others to kill the president. The assassination has spawned numerous conspiracy theories.
Oswald was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1939, to Robert Edward Lee Oswald, Sr. (1896–1939) and Marguerite Frances Claverie (1907–1981). Robert Oswald was the distant cousin of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and a veteran of World War I. Robert died of a heart attack two months before Lee was born. Lee's elder brother Robert, Jr. (1934–) was also a former Marine. Through Marguerite's first marriage to Edward John Pic, Jr., Lee and Robert Jr. were the half-brothers of Air Force veteran John Edward Pic (1932 – 2000).
In 1944, Marguerite moved the family from New Orleans to Dallas, Texas. Oswald entered the 1st grade in 1945 and over the next half-dozen years attended several different schools in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas through the 6th grade. Oswald took an IQ test in the 4th grade and scored 103; "on achievement tests in [grades 4 to 6], he twice did best in reading and twice did worst in spelling."
As a child, Oswald was described as withdrawn and temperamental by several people who knew him. When Oswald was 12 in August 1952, his mother took him to New York City where they lived for a short time with Oswald's half-brother, John. Oswald and his mother were later asked to leave after an argument in which Oswald allegedly struck his mother and threatened John's wife with a pocket knife.
Oswald attended the 7th grade in the Bronx, New York, but was often truant, which led to a psychiatric assessment at a juvenile reformatory. The reformatory psychiatrist, Dr. Renatus Hartogs, described Oswald as immersed in a "vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which [Oswald] tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations." Dr. Hartogs detected a "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies" and recommended continued treatment.
In January 1954, Oswald's mother returned to New Orleans and took her child with her. At the time, there was a question pending before a New York judge as to whether Oswald should be removed from the care of his mother to finish his schooling, although Oswald's behavior appeared to improve during his last months in New York.
Oswald completed the 8th and 9th grades in New Orleans. He entered the 10th grade in 1955 but quit school after one month. After leaving school, Oswald worked for several months as an office clerk and messenger in New Orleans. In July 1956, Oswald's mother moved the family to Fort Worth, Texas, and Oswald re-enrolled in the 10th grade for the September session at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. A few weeks later in October, Oswald quit school at age 17 to join the Marines (see below); he never received a high school diploma.
By the age of 17, he had resided at 22 different locations and attended 12 different schools.
Though the young Oswald had trouble spelling and may have had a "reading-spelling disability", he read voraciously. By age 15, he claimed to be a Marxist and wrote in his diary, "I was looking for a key to my environment, and then I discovered socialist literature. I had to dig for my books in the back dusty shelves of libraries." At 16 he wrote to the Socialist Party of America for information on their Young People's Socialist League, saying he had been studying socialist principles for "well over fifteen months." However, Edward Voebel, "whom the Warren Commission had established was Oswald's closest friend during his teenage years in New Orleans..... said that reports that Oswald was already 'studying Communism' were a 'lot of baloney.' " Voebel said that "Oswald commonly read 'paperback trash.'"
As a teenager in 1955, Oswald attended Civil Air Patrol meetings in New Orleans. His fellow cadets recalled him attending C.A.P. meetings "three or four" times, or "10 or 12 times" over a one- or two-month period.
Oswald enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on October 24, 1956, just after his seventeenth birthday. Because he was underage, his brother Robert, Jr. signed the forms as his guardian. Oswald also named his mother and his half-brother John as beneficiaries. Oswald idolized his older brother, Robert Jr., and wore his Marine Corp ring. John Pic (Oswald's half-brother) testified to the Warren Commission that Oswald's enlistment was motivated by wanting "to get from out and under ... the yoke of oppression from my mother."
Oswald's enlistment papers show his vital statistics as 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 meters) in height, 135 pounds (61 kg) in weight, with hazel eyes and brown hair. His primary training was in radar operation, which was a position that required a security clearance. A May 1957 document stated that he was "granted final clearance to handle classified matter up to and including confidential after careful check of local records had disclosed no derogatory data."
At Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, Oswald finished seventh in a class of thirty in the Aircraft Control and Warning Operator Course, which "included instruction in aircraft surveillance and the use of radar." He was given the military occupational specialty of Aviation Electronics Operator. On July 9, he reported to the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro then departed for Japan the following month, where he was assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 1 at Naval Air Facility Atsugi near Tokyo.
Like all Marines, Oswald was trained and tested in shooting and he scored 212 in December 1956, slightly above the requirements for the designation of sharpshooter. In May 1959 he scored 191, which reduced his rating to marksman.
Oswald was court-martialed after accidentally shooting himself in the elbow with an unauthorized .22 handgun, then court-martialed again for fighting with a sergeant who he thought was responsible for his punishment in the shooting matter. He was demoted from private first class to private and briefly imprisoned in the brig. He was later punished for a third incident: while on night-time sentry duty in the Philippines, he inexplicably fired his rifle into the jungle.
Slightly built, Oswald was nicknamed Ozzie Rabbit after the cartoon character; he was also called Oswaldskovich because he espoused pro-Soviet sentiments. In November 1958, Oswald transferred back to El Toro where his unit's function "was to serveil [sic] for aircraft, but basically to train both enlisted men and officers for later assignment overseas." An officer there said that Oswald was a "very competent" crew chief and was "brighter than most people."
While in the Marines, Oswald made an effort to teach himself rudimentary Russian. Although this was an unusual endeavor, in February 25, 1959 he was invited to take a Marine proficiency exam in written and spoken Russian. His level at the time was rated "poor" in understanding spoken Russian, though he fared rather reasonably for a Marine private at the time in reading and writing. On September 11, 1959, he received a hardship discharge from active service, claiming his mother needed care, and was put on reserve.
Oswald traveled to the Soviet Union just before he turned 20 in October 1959; this was a trip that he had planned well in advance. Along with his self-taught Russian, he had saved $1,500 of his Marine Corps salary. Oswald spent two days with his mother in Fort Worth, then embarked by ship on September 20 from New Orleans to Le Havre, France, and immediately proceeded to the United Kingdom. Arriving in Southampton on October 9, he told officials he had $700 and planned to remain in the United Kingdom for one week before proceeding to a school in Switzerland. However, on the same day, he flew to Helsinki, where he was issued a Soviet visa on October 14. Oswald left Helsinki by train on the following day, crossed the Soviet border at Vainikkala, and arrived in Moscow on October 16. His visa, valid only for a week, was due to expire on October 21.
Almost immediately after arriving, Oswald informed his Intourist guide of his desire to become a Soviet citizen. When asked why by the various Soviet officials he encountered—all of whom, by Oswald's account, found his wish incomprehensible—he said that he was a communist, and gave what he described in his diary as "vauge [sic] answers about 'Great Soviet Union'". On October 21, the day his visa was due to expire, he was told that his citizenship application had been refused, and that he had to leave the Soviet Union that evening. Distraught, Oswald inflicted a minor but bloody wound to his left wrist in his hotel room bathtub soon before his Intourist guide was due to arrive to escort him from the country, according to his diary because he wished to kill himself in a way that would shock her. Delaying Oswald's departure because of his self-inflicted injury, the Soviets kept him in a Moscow hospital under psychiatric observation until October 28, 1959.
According to Oswald, he met with four more Soviet officials that same day, who asked if he wanted to return to the United States. Oswald replied by insisting that he wanted to live in the Soviet Union as a Soviet national. When pressed for identification papers, he provided his Marine Corps discharge papers.
On October 31, Oswald appeared at the United States embassy in Moscow, declaring a desire to renounce his U.S. citizenship. "I have made up my mind," he said; "I'm through." He told the U.S. embassy interviewing officer, Richard Edward Snyder, that "he had been a radar operator in the Marine Corps and that he had voluntarily stated to unnamed Soviet officials that as a Soviet citizen he would make known to them such information concerning the Marine Corps and his specialty as he possessed. He intimated that he might know something of special interest." (Such statements led to Oswald's hardship/honorable military reserve discharge being changed to undesirable.) The Associated Press story of the defection of a former U.S. Marine to the Soviet Union was reported on the front pages of some newspapers in 1959.
Though Oswald had wanted to attend Moscow State University, he was sent to Minsk to work as a lathe operator at the Gorizont Electronics Factory, which produced radios, televisions, and military and space electronics. Stanislau Shushkevich, who later became independent Belarus's first head of state, was also engaged by Gorizont at the time, and was assigned to teach Oswald Russian. Oswald received a government-subsidized, fully furnished studio apartment in a prestigious building and an additional supplement to his factory pay—all in all, an idyllic existence by working-class Soviet standards, though he was kept under constant surveillance.
From approximately June 1960 to February 1961, Oswald had a personal relationship with Ella German, a co-worker at the factory. He proposed marriage to her at the beginning of 1961, but she refused with the explanation that she did not love him and was afraid to marry an American. Some researchers believe that German's rejection of Oswald's marriage proposal may have had much to do with his disillusionment with life in the Soviet Union and his decision to return to the United States.
Oswald wrote in his diary in January 1961: "I am starting to reconsider my desire about staying. The work is drab, the money I get has nowhere to be spent. No nightclubs or bowling alleys, no places of recreation except the trade union dances. I have had enough." Shortly afterwards, Oswald (who had never formally renounced his U.S. citizenship) wrote to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow requesting return of his American passport, and proposing to return to the U.S. if any charges against him would be dropped.
In March 1961, Oswald met Marina Prusakova, a 19-year-old pharmacology student; they married less than six weeks later in April. The Oswalds' first child, June, was born on February 15, 1962. On May 24, 1962, Oswald and Marina applied at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for documents enabling her to immigrate to the U.S. and, on June 1, the U.S. Embassy gave Oswald a repatriation loan of $435.71. Oswald, Marina, and their infant daughter left for the United States, where they received less attention from the press than Oswald expected, much to his disappointment.
The Oswalds soon settled in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, where Lee's mother and brother lived. Lee began a manuscript on Soviet life, though he eventually gave up the project. The Oswalds also became acquainted with a number of anti-Communist Russian and East European émigrés in the area. In testimony to the Warren Commission, Alexander Kleinlerer said that the Russian émigrés sympathized with Marina, while merely tolerating Oswald, whom they regarded as rude and arrogant.
Although the Russian émigrés eventually abandoned Marina when she made no sign of leaving Lee, Oswald found an unlikely friend in 51-year-old Russian émigré George de Mohrenschildt, a well-educated petroleum geologist with international business connections. A native of Russia, Mohrenschildt later was to tell the Warren Commission that Oswald had a "remarkable fluency in Russian." Marina, meanwhile, befriended Ruth Paine, a Quaker who was trying to learn Russian, and her husband Michael Paine, who worked for Bell Helicopter.
In July 1962, Oswald was hired by the Leslie Welding Company in Dallas; he disliked the work and quit after three months. On October 12, he started working for the graphic-arts firm of Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall as a photoprint trainee. A fellow employee at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall testified that Oswald's rudeness at his new job was such that fights threatened to break out, and that he once saw Oswald reading a Russian-language publication. Oswald was fired almost 6 months later, on the first week of April 1963.
In March 1963, Oswald used the alias "A. Hidell" to make a mail-order purchase of a 6.5 mm caliber Carcano rifle for $29.95. He also purchased a .38 Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolver by the same method. On April 10, 1963, Oswald attempted to kill retired U.S. Major General Edwin Walker, firing that rifle at Walker through a window, from less than 100 feet (30 m) away, as Walker sat at a desk in his Dallas home; the bullet struck the window-frame and Walker's only injuries were bullet fragments to the forearm. (The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations stated that the "evidence strongly suggested" that Oswald carried out the shooting.)
General Walker was an outspoken anti-communist, segregationist, and member of the John Birch Society. In 1961, Walker had been relieved of his command of the 24th Division of the U.S. Army in West Germany for distributing right-wing literature to his troops. Walker's later actions in opposition to racial integration at the University of Mississippi led to his arrest on insurrection, seditious conspiracy, and other charges. He was temporarily held in a mental institution on orders from President Kennedy's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, but a grand jury refused to indict him.
Marina Oswald testified that her husband told her that he traveled by bus to General Walker's house and shot at Walker with his rifle. She said that Oswald considered Walker to be the leader of a "fascist organization." A note Oswald left for Marina on the night of the attempt, telling her what to do if he did not return, was not found until ten days after the Kennedy assassination.
Before the Kennedy assassination, Dallas police had no suspects in the Walker shooting, but Oswald's involvement was suspected within hours of his arrest following the assassination. The Walker bullet was too damaged to run conclusive ballistics studies on it, but neutron activation analysis later showed that it was "extremely likely" that it was made by the same manufacturer and for the same rifle make as the two bullets which later struck Kennedy.
George de Mohrenschildt testified that he "knew that Oswald disliked General Walker." Regarding this, de Mohrenschildt and his wife Jeanne recalled an incident that occurred the weekend following the Walker assassination attempt. The de Mohrenschildts testified that on April 14, 1963, just before Easter Sunday, they were visiting the Oswalds at their new apartment and had brought them a toy Easter bunny to give to their child. As Oswald's wife Marina was showing Jeanne around the apartment, they discovered Oswald's rifle standing upright, leaning against the wall inside a closet. Jeanne told George that Oswald had a rifle, and George joked to Oswald, "Were you the one who took a pot-shot at General Walker?" When asked about Oswald's reaction to this question, George de Mohrenschildt told the Warren Commission that Oswald "smiled at that." When George's wife Jeanne was asked about Oswald's reaction, she said, "I didn't notice anything"; she continued, "we started laughing our heads off, big joke, big George's joke." Jeanne de Mohrenschildt testified that this was the last time she or her husband ever saw the Oswalds.
Oswald returned to New Orleans on April 24, 1963. Marina's friend, Ruth Paine, drove her by car from Dallas to join Oswald in New Orleans the following month. On May 10, Oswald was hired by the Reily Coffee Company as a machinery greaser. He was fired in July "because his work was not satisfactory and because he spent too much time loitering in Adrian Alba's garage next door, where he read rifle and hunting magazines."
On May 26, Oswald wrote to the New York City headquarters of the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee, proposing to rent "a small office at my own expense for the purpose of forming a FPCC branch here in New Orleans." Three days later, the FPCC responded to Oswald's letter advising against opening a New Orleans office "at least not ... at the very beginning." In a follow-up letter, Oswald replied, "Against your advice, I have decided to take an office from the very beginning."
On May 29, Oswald ordered the following items from a local printer: 500 application forms, 300 membership cards, and 1,000 leaflets with the heading, "Hands Off Cuba." According to Lee Oswald's wife Marina, Lee told her to sign the name "A.J. Hidell" as chapter president on his membership card.
On August 5 and 6, according to anti-Castro militant Carlos Bringuier, Oswald visited him at a store he owned in New Orleans. Bringuier was the New Orleans delegate for the anti-Castro organization Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE). Bringuier would later tell the Warren Commission that he believed Oswald's visits were an attempt by Oswald to infiltrate his group. On August 9, Oswald turned up in downtown New Orleans handing out pro-Castro leaflets. Bringuier confronted Oswald, claiming he was tipped off about Oswald's leafleting by a friend. A scuffle ensued and Oswald, Bringuier, and two of Bringuier's friends were arrested for disturbing the peace. Prior to leaving the police station, Oswald requested to speak with an FBI agent. Oswald stated that he was a member of the New Orleans branch of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee which he claimed had 35 members and was led by A. J. Hidell. In fact, Oswald was the branch's only member and it had never been chartered by the national organization.
A week later, on August 16, Oswald again passed out Fair Play for Cuba leaflets with two hired helpers, this time in front of the International Trade Mart. The incident was filmed by WDSU, a local TV station. The next day, Oswald was interviewed by WDSU radio commentator William Stuckey, who probed Oswald's background. A few days later, Oswald accepted Stuckey's invitation to take part in a radio debate with Carlos Bringuier and Bringuier's associate Edward Scannell Butler, head of the right-wing Information Council of the Americas (INCA).
Marina's friend Ruth Paine transported Marina and her child by car from New Orleans to the Paine home in Irving, Texas, near Dallas, on September 23, 1963. Oswald stayed in New Orleans at least two more days to collect a $33 unemployment check. It is uncertain when he left New Orleans; he is next known to have boarded a bus in Houston on September 26—bound for the Mexican border, rather than Dallas—and to have told other bus passengers that he planned to travel to Cuba via Mexico. He arrived in Mexico City on September 27, where he applied for a transit visa at the Cuban Embassy, claiming he wanted to visit Cuba on his way to the Soviet Union. The Cuban embassy officials insisted Oswald would need Soviet approval, but he was unable to get prompt co-operation from the Soviet embassy.
After five days of shuttling between consulates—that included a heated argument with an official at the Cuban consulate, impassioned pleas to KGB agents, and at least some CIA scrutiny—Oswald was told by a Cuban consular officer that he was disinclined to approve the visa, saying "a person like [Oswald] in place of aiding the Cuban Revolution, was doing it harm." Later, on October 18, the Cuban embassy approved the visa, but by this time Oswald was back in the United States and had given up on his plans to visit Cuba and the Soviet Union. Still later, eleven days before the assassination of President Kennedy, Oswald wrote to the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., saying, "Had I been able to reach the Soviet Embassy in Havana, as planned, the embassy there would have had time to complete our business."
While the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald had visited Mexico City and the Cuban and Soviet consulates, questions regarding whether someone posing as Oswald had appeared at the embassies were serious enough to be investigated by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Later, the Committee agreed with the Warren Commission that Oswald had visited Mexico City and concluded that "the majority of evidence tends to indicate" that Oswald in fact visited the consulates, but the Committee could not rule out the possibility that someone else had used his name in visiting the consulates.
On October 2, 1963, Oswald left Mexico City by bus and arrived in Dallas the next day. Ruth Paine said that her neighbor told her, on October 14, that there was a job opening at the Texas School Book Depository, where her neighbor's brother, Wesley Frazier, worked. Mrs. Paine informed Oswald, who was interviewed at the Depository and was hired there on October 16 as a $1.25 an hour minimum wage order filler. Oswald's supervisor, Roy S. Truly (1907–1985), said that Oswald "did a good day's work" and was an above-average employee. During the week, Oswald stayed in a Dallas rooming house under the name "O.H. Lee", but he spent his weekends with Marina at the Paine home in Irving. Oswald did not drive, but commuted to and from Dallas on Mondays and Fridays with his co-worker Wesley Frazier. On October 20 (a month before the assassination), the Oswalds' second daughter, Audrey, was born.
FBI agents twice visited the Paine home in early November, when Oswald was not present, and spoke to Mrs. Paine. Oswald visited the Dallas FBI office about 2 to 3 weeks before the assassination, asking to see Special Agent James P. Hosty. When he was told that Hosty was unavailable, Oswald left a note that, according to the receptionist, read: "Let this be a warning. I will blow up the FBI and the Dallas Police Department if you don't stop bothering my wife" [signed] "Lee Harvey Oswald." The note allegedly contained some sort of threat, but accounts vary as to whether Oswald threatened to "blow up the FBI" or merely "report this to higher authorities". According to Hosty, the note said, "If you have anything you want to learn about me, come talk to me directly. If you don't cease bothering my wife, I will take the appropriate action and report this to the proper authorities." Agent Hosty said that he destroyed Oswald's note on orders from his superior, Gordon Shanklin, after Oswald was named the suspect in the Kennedy assassination.
In the days before Kennedy's arrival, several newspapers described the route of the presidential motorcade, which passed the Texas School Book Depository. On November 21 (a Thursday) Oswald asked Frazier for an unusual mid-week lift back to Irving, saying he had to pick up some curtain rods. The next morning (the day of the assassinaton), he returned to Dallas with Frazier. He left behind $170 and his wedding ring, but took with him a large paper bag. Frazier reported that Oswald told him the bag contained curtain rods, The Warren Commission concluded that the package of "curtain rods" actually contained the rifle that Oswald was going to use for the assassination.
Oswald's co-worker, Charles Givens, testified to the Commission that he last saw Oswald on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) at approximately 11:55 a.m.—35 minutes before the assassination. The Commission report stated that Oswald was not seen again "until after the shooting." However, in an FBI report taken the day after the assassination, Givens said that the encounter took place at 11:30 a.m. and that he later saw Oswald reading a newspaper in the first floor domino room at 11:50 a.m. William Shelley, a foreman at the depository, also testified that he saw Oswald making a phone call on the first floor between 11:45 and 11:50 a.m. Janitor Eddie Piper also testified that he spoke to Oswald on the first floor at 12:00 p.m. Another co-worker, Bonnie Ray Williams, was on the sixth floor of the depository eating his lunch and was there until at least 12:10 p.m. He said that during that time, he did not see Oswald, or anyone else, on the sixth floor and thought that he was the only person up there. However, he also said that some boxes in the southeast corner may have prevented him from seeing deep into the "sniper's nest." Carolyn Arnold, the secretary to the Vice President of the TSBD, informed the FBI that as she left the building to watch the motorcade, she caught a glimpse of a man whom she believed to be Oswald standing in the first floor hallway of the building just prior to the assassination.
As Kennedy's motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza at about 12:30 p.m. on November 22, Oswald fired three rifle shots from the sixth-floor window of the book depository, killing the President and seriously wounding Texas Governor John Connally. One shot apparently missed the presidential limousine entirely, another struck both Kennedy and Connally, and a third bullet struck Kennedy in the head, killing him. Bystander James Tague received a minor facial injury from a small piece of curbstone that fragmented when it was struck by one of the bullets.
Howard Brennan, a steamfitter who was sitting across the street from the Texas School Book Depository, notified police that he was watching the motorcade go by when he heard a shot come from above and looked up to see a man with a rifle make another shot from the southeast-corner window on the sixth floor. He said he had seen the same man minutes earlier looking through the window. Brennan gave a description of the shooter, and Dallas police subsequently broadcast descriptions between 12:45 p.m., 12:48 p.m., and 12:55 p.m. After the second shot was fired, Brennan recalled, "This man I saw previous[ly] was aiming for his last shot ... and maybe paused for another second as though to assure himself that he had hit his mark."
According to the investigations, Oswald hid and covered the rifle with boxes after the attack and descended through the rear stairwell. About 90 seconds after the shots rang out, Oswald encountered police officer Marrion L. Baker, who had his gun drawn, in the second-floor lunchroom. The patrolman was accompanied by Oswald's supervisor, Roy Truly. Baker let Oswald pass after Truly identified him as an employee. According to Baker, Oswald did not appear to be "nervous" or "out of breath." Truly said that Oswald look "startled" when Baker pointed his gun directly at him. Mrs. Robert Reid—a clerical supervisor at the depository who returned to her office within two minutes after the shooting—said that she saw Oswald "was very calm" on the second floor with a Coke in his hands. As they walked past each other, Mrs. Reid said to Oswald, "The President has been shot" to which he mumbled something in response, but Reid did not understand him. Oswald was believed to have left the depository through the front entrance just before police sealed it off. Truly later pointed out to officers that Oswald was the only employee that he was certain was missing.
At about 12:40 p.m., Oswald boarded a city bus but (probably due to heavy traffic) requested a transfer from the bus driver and got off two blocks later. Oswald took a taxicab to his rooming house, at 1026 North Beckley Avenue, arriving at about 1:00 p.m. He entered through the front door and, according to his housekeeper Earlene Roberts, immediately went to his room, "walking pretty fast." Roberts said that Oswald left "a very few minutes" later, zipping up a jacket he was not wearing when he had entered earlier. As Oswald left, Roberts looked out of the window of her house and last saw him standing at the northbound Beckley Avenue bus stop in front of her house.
The Warren Commission concluded that at approximately 1:15 p.m., Dallas Patrolman J. D. Tippit drove up in his patrol car alongside Oswald—presumably because Oswald resembled the police broadcast description of the man seen by witness Howard Brennan firing shots at the presidential motorcade. He encountered Oswald near the corner of East 10th Street and North Patton Avenue. This location is about nine-tenths of a mile (1.4 km) southeast of Oswald's rooming house—a distance that the Warren Commission concluded "Oswald could have easily walked." Tippit pulled alongside Oswald and "apparently exchanged words with [him] through the right front or vent window." "Shortly after 1:15 p.m.", Tippit exited his car, Oswald immediately struck and killed him with four shots. Numerous witnesses heard the shots and saw Oswald flee the scene holding a revolver; nine positively identified him as the man who shot Tippit and fled. Four cartridge cases found at the scene were identified by expert witnesses before the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee as having been fired from the revolver later found in Oswald's possession, to the exclusion of all other weapons. However, the bullets taken from Tippit's body could not be positively identified as having been fired from Oswald's revolver as the bullets were too extensively damaged to make conclusive assessments.
Shoe store manager Johnny Brewer testified that he saw Oswald "ducking into" the entrance alcove of his store. Suspicious of this activity, Brewer watched Oswald continue up the street and slip into the nearby Texas Theatre without paying. He alerted the theater's ticket clerk, who telephoned police at about 1:40 p.m.
As police arrived, the house lights were brought up and Brewer pointed out Oswald sitting near the rear of the theater. Police Officer Nick McDonald testified that he was the first to reach Oswald and that Oswald seemed ready to surrender saying, "Well, it is all over now." McDonald said that Oswald pulled out a pistol tucked into the front of his pants, then pointed the pistol at him, and pulled the trigger. McDonald stated that the pistol did not fire because the pistol's hammer came down on the webbing between the thumb and index finger of his hand as he grabbed for the pistol. McDonald also said that Oswald struck him, but that he struck back and Oswald was disarmed. As he was led from the theater, Oswald shouted he was a victim of police brutality.
At about 2 p.m., Oswald arrived at the Police Department building, where he was questioned by Detective Jim Leavelle (1920–) about the shooting of Officer Tippit. When Captain J. W. Fritz heard Oswald's name, he recognized it as that of the book depository employee who was reported missing and was already a suspect in the assassination. Oswald was formally arraigned for the murder of Officer Tippit at 7:10 p.m., and by the end of the night (shortly after 1:30 a.m.) he had been arraigned for the assassination of President Kennedy as well.
Soon after his capture, Oswald encountered reporters in a hallway. Oswald declared, "I didn't shoot anybody" and, "They've taken me in because of the fact that I lived in the Soviet Union. I'm just a patsy!" Later, at an arranged press meeting, a reporter asked, "Did you kill the President?" and Oswald—who by that time had been advised of the charge of murdering Tippit, but had not yet been arraigned in Kennedy's death—answered, "No, I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about it was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question." As he was led from the room the question was called out, "What did you do in Russia?" and, "How did you hurt your eye?"; Oswald answered, "A policeman hit me."
Oswald was interrogated several times during his two days at Dallas Police Headquarters. He admitted that he went to his rooming house after leaving the book depository. He also admitted that he changed his clothes and armed himself with a .38 revolver before leaving his house to go to the theater. However, Oswald denied killing Kennedy and Tippit, denied owning a rifle, and said two photographs of him holding a rifle and a pistol were fakes. He denied telling his co-worker he wanted a ride to Irving to get curtain rods for his apartment (he said that the package contained his lunch). He also denied carrying a long, bulky package to work the morning of the assassination. Oswald denied knowing an "A. J. Hidell". Oswald was then shown a forged Selective Service System card bearing his photograph and the alias, "Alek James Hidell" that he had in his possession at the time of his arrest. Oswald refused to answer any questions concerning the card, saying "you have the card yourself and you know as much about it as I do."
The first interrogation of Oswald was conducted by FBI Special Agent James P. Hosty and Dallas Police Captain Will Fritz (chief of homicide) on Friday, November 22. Asked to account for himself at the time of the assassination, Oswald replied that he was eating his lunch in the first floor lounge (known as the "domino room"). He said that he then went to the second-floor lunchroom to buy a Coca-Cola from the soda machine there and was drinking it when he encountered Dallas motorcycle policeman Marrion L. Baker, who had entered the building with his gun drawn. Oswald said that while he was in the domino room, he saw two "Negro employees" walking by, one he recognized as "Junior" and a shorter man whose name he could not recall. Junior Jarman and Harold Norman confirmed to the Warren Commission that they had "walked through" the domino room around noon during their lunch break. When asked if anyone else was in the domino room, Norman testified that somebody else was there, but he could not remember who it was. Jarman testified that Oswald was not in the domino room when he was there. During his last interrogation on November 24, according to postal inspector Harry Holmes, Oswald was again asked where he was at the time of the shooting. Holmes (who attended the interrogation at the invitation of Captain Will Fritz) said that Oswald replied that he was working on an upper floor when the shooting occurred, then went downstairs where he encountered Dallas motorcycle policeman Marrion L. Baker.
Oswald asked for legal representation several times while being interrogated, and he also asked for assistance during encounters with reporters. When H. Louis Nichols, President of the Dallas Bar Association met with him in his cell on Saturday, he declined their services, saying he wanted to be represented by John Abt, chief counsel to the Communist Party USA, or by lawyers associated with the American Civil Liberties Union. Both Oswald and Ruth Paine tried to reach Abt by telephone several times Saturday and Sunday, but Abt was away for the weekend. Oswald also declined his brother Robert's offer on Saturday to obtain a local attorney.
During an interrogation with Captain Fritz, when asked, "Are you a communist?", he replied, "No, I am not a communist. I am a Marxist."
On Sunday, November 24, Oswald was being led through the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters toward an armored car that was to take him to the nearby County Jail. At 11:21 a.m. CST, Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby stepped from the crowd and shot Oswald in the abdomen at close range. Oswald was taken unconscious by ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital—the same hospital where doctors tried to save President Kennedy's life two days earlier. Oswald died at 1:07 p.m. Dallas police chief Jesse Curry announced Oswald's death on a TV news broadcast.
At 2:45 p.m. the same day, an autopsy was performed on Oswald in the Office of the County Medical Examiner. Announcing the results of the gross autopsy, Dallas County medical examiner Earl Rose said: "The two things that we could determine were, first, that he died from a hemorrhage from a gunshot wound, and that otherwise he was a physically healthy male." Rose's examination found that Ruby's bullet entered Oswald's left side in the front part of the abdomen and caused damage to his spleen, stomach, aorta, vena cava, kidney, liver, diaphragm, and eleventh rib before coming to rest on his right side.
A network television pool camera was there to cover the transfer and was broadcasting live; millions of people who were watching on NBC witnessed the shooting as it happened and on other networks within minutes afterward. In 1964, Robert H. Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Photography for his photograph of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby.
Ruby later said he had been distraught over Kennedy's death and that his motive for killing Oswald was "saving Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial." Others have hypothesized that Ruby was part of a conspiracy. G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations from 1977 to 1979, said: "The most plausible explanation for the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby was that Ruby had stalked him on behalf of organized crime, trying to reach him on at least three occasions in the forty-eight hours before he silenced him forever."
Oswald was buried on November 25 in Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park in Fort Worth. Reporters who were present to report on the burial were asked by officials to act as pallbearers. A marker inscribed simply Oswald replaced the stolen original tombstone, which gave Oswald's full name, and birth and death dates. His mother was buried beside him in 1981.
A claim that a look-alike Russian agent was buried in place of Oswald led to his exhumation on October 4, 1981. Dental records confirmed that it was Oswald's body in the grave and he was reburied in a new coffin due to water damage to the original.
In 2010, the Fort Worth funeral home that held Oswald's original coffin employed a Los Angeles auction house to sell it to an undisclosed bidder for $87,468. The sale was halted after Oswald's brother, Robert, learned of the transaction in a Texas newspaper and sued to reclaim the coffin. In January 2015, a district judge in Tarrant County, Texas ruled that the funeral home intentionally concealed the existence of the pine coffin from Robert Oswald who had originally purchased it and believed that it been discarded after the exhumation. The court ordered it returned to Oswald's brother, plus damages equal to the sale price. Robert Oswald's attorney stated that the coffin would likely be destroyed "as soon as possible".
New President Lyndon B. Johnson used an executive order to create The Warren Commission in order to investigate the assassination. The commission concluded that Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy, and the Warren Report could not ascribe any one motive or group of motives to Oswald's actions:
It is apparent, however, that Oswald was moved by an overriding hostility to his environment. He does not appear to have been able to establish meaningful relationships with other people. He was perpetually discontented with the world around him. Long before the assassination he expressed his hatred for American society and acted in protest against it. Oswald's search for what he conceived to be the perfect society was doomed from the start. He sought for himself a place in history—a role as the "great man" who would be recognized as having been in advance of his times. His commitment to Marxism and communism appears to have been another important factor in his motivation. He also had demonstrated a capacity to act decisively and without regard to the consequences when such action would further his aims of the moment. Out of these and the many other factors which may have molded the character of Lee Harvey Oswald there emerged a man capable of assassinating President Kennedy.
The proceedings of the commission were closed, though not secret, and about 3% of its files have yet to be released to the public, which has continued to provoke speculation among researchers.
In 1968, the Ramsey Clark Panel examined various photographs, X-ray films, documents, and other evidence, concluding that Kennedy was struck by two bullets fired from above and behind him, one of which traversed the base of the neck on the right side without striking bone, and the other of which entered the skull from behind and destroyed its right side.
In 1979, after a review of the evidence and of prior investigations, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) largely concurred with the Warren Commission and was preparing to issue a finding that Oswald had acted alone in killing Kennedy. However, late in the Committee's proceedings a dictabelt recording was introduced, purportedly recording sounds heard in Dealey Plaza before, during and after the shots were fired. After an analysis by the firm Bolt, Beranek and Newman appeared to indicate more than three gunshots, the HSCA revised its findings to assert a "high probability that two gunmen fired" at Kennedy and that Kennedy "was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy." Although the Committee was "unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy," it made a number of further findings regarding the likelihood or unlikelihood that particular groups, named in the findings, were involved. Four of the twelve members of the HSCA dissented from this conclusion.
The acoustical evidence has since been discredited. Officer H.B. McLain, from whose motorcycle radio the HSCA acoustic experts said the Dictabelt evidence came, has repeatedly stated that he was not yet in Dealey Plaza at the time of the assassination. McLain asked the Committee, "‘If it was my radio on my motorcycle, why did it not record the revving up at high speed plus my siren when we immediately took off for Parkland Hospital?’”
In 1982, a panel of twelve scientists appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, including Nobel laureates Norman Ramsey and Luis Alvarez, unanimously concluded that the acoustic evidence submitted to the HSCA was "seriously flawed", was recorded after the President had been shot, and did not indicate additional gunshots. Their conclusions were later published in the journal Science.
In a 2001 article in the journal Science & Justice, D.B. Thomas wrote that the NAS investigation was itself flawed. He concluded with a 96.3 percent certainty that there were at least two gunmen firing at President Kennedy and that at least one shot came from the grassy knoll. In 2005, Thomas's conclusions were rebutted in the same journal. Ralph Linsker and several members of the original NAS team reanalyzed the timings of the recordings and reaffirmed the earlier conclusion of the NAS report that the alleged shot sounds were recorded approximately one minute after the assassination. In 2010, D.B. Thomas challenged in a book the 2005 Science & Justice article and restated his conclusion that there were at least two gunmen.
The "backyard photos", taken by Marina Oswald probably around March 31, 1963 using a camera belonging to Oswald, show Oswald holding two Marxist newspapers—The Militant and The Worker—and a rifle, and wearing a pistol in a holster. Oswald was shown the pictures after his arrest and insisted that they were forgeries, but Marina testified in 1964 that she had taken the photographs at Oswald's request— testimony she reaffirmed repeatedly over the decades. These photos were labelled CE 133-A and CE 133-B. CE 133-A shows the rifle in Oswald's left hand and newspapers in front of his chest in the other, while the rifle is held with the right hand in CE 133-B. Oswald's mother testified that on the day after the assassination she and Marina destroyed another photograph with Oswald holding the rifle with both hands over his head, with "To my daughter June" written on it.
The HSCA obtained another first-generation print (from CE 133-A) on April 1, 1977, from the widow of George de Mohrenschildt. The words "Hunter of fascists—ha ha ha!" written in block Russian were on the back. Also in English were added in script: "To my friend George, Lee Oswald, 5/IV/63 [April 5, 1963]." Handwriting experts for the HSCA concluded the English inscription and signature were by Oswald. After two original photos, one negative and one first-generation copy had been found, the Senate Intelligence Committee located (in 1976) a third backyard photo (CE 133-C) showing Oswald with newspapers held away from his body in his right hand.
These photos, widely recognized as some of the most significant evidence against Oswald, have been subjected to rigorous analysis. Photographic experts consulted by the HSCA concluded they were genuine, answering twenty-one points raised by critics. Marina Oswald has always maintained she took the photos herself, and the 1963 de Mohrenschildt print bearing Oswald's signature clearly indicate they existed before the assassination. Nonetheless, some continue to contest their authenticity. In 2009, after digitally analyzing the photograph of Oswald holding the rifle and paper, computer scientist Hany Farid concluded that the photo "almost certainly was not altered."
Some critics have not accepted the conclusions of the Warren Commission and have proposed several other theories, such as that Oswald conspired with others, or was not involved at all and was framed.
A Gallup Poll taken in mid-November 2013, showed 61% believed that Kennedy was killed in a conspiracy, and only 30% thought Oswald acted alone.
Several films have fictionalized a trial of Oswald, depicting what may have happened had Ruby not killed Oswald. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1964); The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1977); and On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald (1986) have fictionalized a trial of Oswald. In 1988, a 21-hour unscripted mock trial was held on television, argued by lawyers before a judge, with unscripted testimony from surviving witnesses to the events surrounding the assassination; the jury returned a verdict of guilty. In 1992 the American Bar Association conducted two mock Oswald trials. The first trial ended in a hung jury. In the second trial the jury acquitted Oswald.