November 22nd, 1963

The Kidnapping of the Oswald Family

.....Every journalist in the country seemed to be on a flight to Dallas that day. The aisles of my flight were cluttered with heavy video cameras, tripods lights and other necessary gear hurriedly assembled. Rumors moved from aisle to aisle and row to row. We all hoped for the best but all we knew, while en route to Dallas, was that John Kennedy was shot and was at Parkland hospital in Dallas. His condition, as the flight took off, was unknown. At about 11:05 AM the pilots voice shattered the hopes of all aboard.

....."Ladies and gentlemen" he said, then took a deep breath, "We have just been informed that President John F. Kennedy has died a few moments ago, I'm so sorry." His voice choked up, then faded into the hushed silence on the airplane. The aisles soon cleared as everyone returned to their seats...

.....When we landed we contacted the Dallas bureau of LIFE and were told of the capture, in a movie theater, of Lee Harvey Oswald, who was also a suspect in the shooting of a Dallas police officer. Oswald was being held in the Dallas County Jail.

.....The corridors of the jail were swarming with photographers and reporters. Some were standing on chairs some on camera cases to get a better shot of the yet unseen suspect in JFK's murder. I had covered many news stories in my years with LIFE but never had I seen so many photographers pushing and shoving all trying to get the same shot of Oswald being moved from one room to another a few yards away. It appeared to be utter chaos and knowing LIFE could always pick up that shot from one of the news photographers, I left the county jail.

.....I teamed up with LIFE correspondent Tommy Thompson, who had had spent his youth in Dallas and managed to get the address of a rooming house where the suspect lived. There we found a red brick house with a rather friendly talkative housekeeper who showed us the closet size room she rented to a " Mr. 0. H. Lee" for $8.00 a week. She showed us the phone in the rooming house and told us of the phone cans made by the strange man to Irving, Texas , a small town between Dallas and Fort Worth. She said he always spoke in a foreign language when he made most of his calls.. She said that a swarm of Secret Service men or FBI agents had descended on the rooming house looking for any evidence they could find. We thanked the landlady for the information and headed for Irving, Texas. We were not looking for 0. H. Lee but for Lee Harvey Oswald, the name of the recently captured suspect. I reloaded my cameras en route to Irving Texas.

.....The first thing we did was to find the local sheriffs station and try to locate the house that contained the other end of that phone line. We could not find any one named Oswald in the local phone directory. Tommy, thanks to his Texas accent, got a street name from the deputy who had heard it mentioned by an FBI man who had appeared at the sheriff s station earlier in the day.

.....We located the street which fortunately was only a few blocks long. While we were casing the street a car pulled up and parked in front of one of the houses. We were convinced it was a reporter or a photographer from a local newspaper who knew more than we did. As we approached him, he opened the trunk of his car which contained several bags of groceries and proceeded to remove them. When he looked up he saw the cameras hanging from my neck, looked at Tommy and said, "Well, we wondered when the press would find us. You might as well come inside."

.....He introduced himself as Michael Paine and the woman at the door as Ruth Paine. We identified ourselves.

.....Tommy asked Ruth Paine if she knew Lee Harvey Oswald. "Yes", she said. "Lee is a friend and lives here with his wife and two children." When Tommy asked if she believed Lee Harvey Oswald could have shot the president, a distraught looking elderly woman in a nurses uniform with her stockings rolled down to her knees, sitting in a dark comer of the room, jumped up and said, "Don't you think I should answer that question ? I'm Lee's mother!" Tommy and I were astounded and moments later we got another shock.

.....A very pretty and very pale young woman appeared in the doorway with a small baby in her arms and headed towards the kitchen. It appeared that we had stumbled onto the alleged assassin's family while the rest of the press was waiting to get a glimpse of Lee Harvey Oswald in the corridor of the Dallas County Jail.

.....I had been taking pictures as unobtrusively as I could, not knowing what to expect from our obvious invasion of these people's privacy. Meanwhile, Tommy started asking questions "How long had the Oswalds been living with the Paines and when had they last seen him"?

.....I was taking pictures of Marguerite Oswald (Lee's mother) who was sad one minute and quite aggressive the next. She suddenly lept at me screaming, "Stop it! Stop taking pictures here! You don't have the right to do this ... we should be paid for this!" She took a swipe at my camera to make her point. Tommy, with his Texas charm, asked Marguerite how much her story was worth. Since it was LIFE magazine she suggested somewhere between $2,000 and $2500.

.....I stopped shooting pictures while Tommy called George Hunt (the managing editor of LIFE) from another room.

.....At this time there was very little we knew for sure except for the fact that we had indeed found the wife, the two children, the mother and the Russian speaking friend of Lee Harvey Oswald. Tommy stalled saying that the Managing Editor was out of the office but would be told of the request for the rights to the story and would get back to us with the decision.

.....The possibility that we could eventually lose our exclusive on the story of this bewildered family loomed large in our minds. It was, after all, was one of the biggest and most tragic stories of our time. It involved two young families from different worlds. The tragic loss of our young charismatic President was unbearable and its effect on the world was indescribable. But the fact of the matter was we had in our hands the story of the other family involved in the assassination and we had it exclusively. The Kennedy children and the Oswald children, forever scarred by two different bullets. Tommy and I had expected the story to be snatched away from us by an offer of money we could not match. We couldn't offer any large sums of money - the managing editor refused to pay the "Mother of an assassin," any amount for her exclusive story. We had to move the Oswalds to a different location "to kidnap them for a few days." But how?

.....Then, suddenly, the answer came in the form of a question from a subdued Marguerite Oswald. "Would it be possible," she asked, "For Marina and I to go with you to Dallas to see Lee Harvey?" Tommy took a deep breath and offered not only to drive the women to Dallas but to give them our rooms at the Adolphus Hotel where they could spend the night and where they would not only be comfortable but in the morning, would practically be next door to the Dallas Jail where Lee was being held.

.....Marguerite liked the idea but Marina didn't want to wake the children. She told Ruth Paine in Russian she thought it best to pick them up in the morning. Tommy and I decided not to push our luck. We thanked them for their kindness in giving us the time and allowing us to take some photographs. Tommy promised to get an answer from our Managing Editor regarding the money Marguerite had asked for. We would be back in the morning to take them to Dallas.

.....We walked to our rented car. Tommy got in on the drivers side. I gave him the car keys. He twirled them around on his index finger while watching the house. "This, my friend, is probably going to be the biggest scoop of my career, and I will kill the first newsman that approaches that house." At that time, Tommy had been with LIFE two and a half years.

.....We sat there in the dark for a few minutes. "Let's go," I said, "we ought to get this film off to New York."

....."Uh uh..." he said, "we're not leaving here until those lights in the house go out." We sat there in the dark waiting and listening for the sounds of approaching cars. Three came by but kept on going. Mr. Paine got in his car and drove off. (We found out later that the Paines were divorced.)

.....A short time later the lights went out. Tommy finally relaxed and we headed back to Dallas.

.....Early Saturday morning, November 23rd, we returned to the Paine house. There were freshly washed diapers drying in the sun and a suitcase waiting to be packed for the short trip to the Adolphus Hotel and then on to the Dallas county jail. Marina put a fresh diaper on her daughter June. Marguerite cradled young Rachel in her arms while wiping away some tears in anticipation of seeing her son in the Dallas Jail and perhaps finally finding out from Lee Harvey what was going on. Oswald was still only a suspect in this bizarre story.

.....All Morning I had been carefully taking pictures of Marina, trying not to interfere with the routine of this young mother and her two children. Marguerite Oswald alternately loving and abusive to her young daughter-in-law, caressing her one minute and calling her a whore who was responsible for the trouble Lee Harvey was in. But Marina understood very little English if any and continued on with her chores......

.....She had an inner peace that, I thought might save her from being destroyed by this catastrophic event that eventually would take her husband from her just as swiftly as John Kennedy was taken from his family. That was the tragedy of this young bewildered Russian family that Lee Harvey Oswald left behind the day after he picked up his rifle, peered through the telescopic sight and squeezed the trigger.

.....We loaded our car with the diapers and other necessary items for the two kids and two small suitcases for the women. When we got to Dallas, we drove around to the back of the Hotel, took the Oswalds down to the basement and then took the freight elevator to our room, where we made arrangements to have a Russian translator available to us in order to relay questions and answers between us and Marina..

.....After they finished breakfast, Tommy realized that if we let the Oswalds go to the jail now, the press would be on them like sharks on a feeding frenzy and we would lose our exclusive story. Tommy knew he had to ask questions soon and made a quick call to the LIFE Bureau in Dallas and have them try to make arrangements for the Oswald jail visit.

.....Shortly before noon we were startled by a loud knock on the door of our hotel suite. We quietly moved the family to one of the bedrooms and closed the door after locking it on the inside. The knock got louder and was followed by an announcement, "This is the FBI open up now." Tommy requested some kind of identification to be slipped under the door. We were told that if we didn't open the door now we would be facing serious charges for "harboring persons that may have been involved in a serious crime." Tommy shrugged, opened the door slowly and peered over the shoulder of this tall, well dressed man holding his FBI identification in his hand. It identified the man as a special Agent for the FBI named Bardwell Odum.. Tommy invited him into our room at which point Odum asked for our ID's and we produced our LIFE magazine credentials. He smiled and asked to see Marina and Marguerite Oswald. I asked him how he found out we were hiding the Oswalds in our hotel suite.

....."The same way you found out that they lived in Irving, Texas..." he answered, matter of factly. I asked if he would permit me to photograph his interrogation of Marina.

....."It's your hotel room do what you have to. But I won't be questioning Marina here, I'm taking her with me to the FBI Office in Dallas," he replied with a smile. I knocked on the bedroom door. Marguerite opened it.. Marina was fixing her hair in the mirror getting ready to visit Lee Harvey. Marguerite announced that she had made her own arrangements to see her son, (evidently using her phone in the bedroom) with Captain Will Fritz of the Dallas Police Department whom she said she saw on television. They said they would call her back at the Adolphus using the registered name Grant as a room number and confirm the arrangements for the visit for Marina, her two children and Oswald's mother Marguerite and his brother Robert and give them a scheduled time. Somewhat stunned by what Marguerite did, Tommy introduced the Oswalds to FBI Agent Odum, explaining that Marina spoke very little English and offering him our Russian interpreter.

.....Tommy then left the room to call Captain Fritz to see if Marguerite's story regarding the jail visit was true and tried to get us into the jail as well to take exclusive pictures of their dramatic meeting for LIFE magazine.

....."No one is getting into that cell but the next of kin," was the firm response.

.....Meanwhile, I had been taking pictures when special agent Odum tried to get Marguerite to release Marina to his custody for the FBI interrogation. But the feisty old lady held her ground determined to see her son, as promised by Captain Will Fritz. The Oswald family was going to see Lee Harvey and going nowhere else until they talked to him in person.

.....Odum told the Russian interpreter to tell Marina he would like to question her and would like her to come with him to the FBI Office in Dallas. Marguerite said, "It's no good. You don't need to tell the interpreter that because my daughter-in-law is not going with you. We have been promised to see Lee and that is where we are going, Besides, Marina made her statement in the courthouse yesterday and any further statements will be made with counsel... "Odum, losing patience, told the interpreter to tell Marina she should decide what to do and not listen to her mother-in-law. Robert Oswald, Lee's brother, entered the room and told Odum he was sorry but there would be no questioning until he got an attorney for Lee and Marina. At that point Odum left, realizing that he had no legal authority to take Marina with him.

....In the meantime we got a call from our Dallas Bureau informing us of a rumor floating around that LIFE was hiding the Oswalds at the Adolphus Hotel where most of the press were staying. The visit to Lee Harvey was set for two-thirty. The arrangement was for us to drop the family off in the basement of the courthouse where they would be met by two detectives. We were to leave; they would return the family in an unmarked car and drop them off in the basement of the Adolphus Hotel where we would meet them in two separate cars. Captain Fritz promised the utmost secrecy and the return of the family at a time which we would be notified in advance, depending how the meeting went.

....At two-thirty on the 23rd of November 1963 we took the Oswalds including Lee's two young children to the courthouse as arranged and left them in custody of the police. They were returned several hours later in two cars .

.....Marguerite told us that they had offered Marina a private room where she could nurse Rachel and take care of June. When they finally got to see Lee, several hours later, they spoke to via telephone from a glass enclosed booth where they could see but not touch anybody. The actual meeting lasted about six or seven minutes. Marguerite saw that Lee was quite bruised around his face and had a black eye. Lee told her it happened during a scuffle. He told Marguerite not to worry, that he was fine and had arranged for an attorney. Marina stayed on a little longer and when she left she was crying. Marguerite told us that Marina said, "I tell Lee I love Lee and Lee says he loves me very much, and to be sure to buy new shoes for June now that she is walking."

....."Now here's a man," Marguerite said, "who is accused of the murder of the President of the United States and, twenty four hours later he is thinking about his young daughter needing shoes and Marina couldn't even reach out and touch his hand."

.....It was now quite obvious that we had to move the Oswalds to another location. But it would be complicated since the chance of discovery had increased. Most of the press corps was at the courthouse when the Oswald had been dropped off. Captain Fritz had promised the utmost secrecy. But we were still nervous.

.....We decided to take them to the Executive Inn on the other side of town and register them in a suite as Mr. & Mrs. Allan Grant & Family. Then with the help of our Russian interpreter we explained to Marina, what we were doing and then helped them get settled in their rooms. I told them that if they needed anything to just sign my name to the bin and the charges would be taken care of by LIFE magazine. I then handed Marguerite ten twenty dollar bills which she slipped into her pocket.

....."Be sure to buy the shoes for June," I said.." She thanked me for all the help and hoped that the photographs would turn out good. I turned towards Marina and she handed Rachel over to her mother-in-law and we embraced. for a moment I told her through the interpreter to tell Marina that I would be thinking of her and would pray for her and the children. She embraced me again and wished me a safe flight home to my family.

.....I headed back to the Adolphus Hotel with the interpreter who remarked, "She is such a pretty girl and so sweet. This is going to be very difficult for her and the children."

.....When I got back to the Adolphus Hotel we had a meeting of all the LIFE people in Dallas to assess what we captured on film during the two days in Dallas. Since Oswald was in custody and the Presidents funeral was to be the main story in the next issue of LIFE several photographers were sent back to their bureaus in Washington and Chicago. I was to return to Los Angeles and process my fihn...

.....I returned home late that night. and cleaned up the mess I had left in my hurry to catch that flight to Dallas. I turned on the TV to catch up on any late news. There was film on Jackie Kennedy; her clothes stained with the Presidents blood. I was stunned by the photographs. and thought of her two children. I shut the tv off and sat there in the dark for quite a while, then went to bed.. I fell]. asleep thinking of that pretty, but bewildered, Russian girl and her two young children. I slept fitfully that night. I was jolted awake by the telephone near my bed. It was a fishing buddy of mine

....."Hey, it's Leo, what the hell are you doing home? I thought you'd still be in Dallas."..

....."Why, what's up? I asked.

....."Someone just shot Oswald!" he yelled, "Turn on your damn tv set."

.....Two weeks later LIFE published one small picture of Marina Oswald from our exclusive story of the other .family.