Throughout November, KERA will mark the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination by taking a closer look at that fateful day, what it meant to the country, how it changed Dallas, and more.
Today, we take a look at Lee Harvey Oswald's widow, Marina Oswald:
For years, the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald has avoided cameras while she tries to live a quiet life in Rockwall, northeast of Dallas. But earlier this month, the Daily Mirror, the British tabloid, published pictures and video of the widow, now Marina Oswald Porter, as she walked out of a Walmart.
It’s the first time we’ve seen pictures of her in about 20 years.
In the spring of 1961, Lee Oswald met Marina Prusakova at a dance in Minsk, Belarus. Six weeks later, they were married at the home of her uncle, who worked for Soviet domestic intelligence. In October 1962, they moved to Dallas. By the fall of 1963, they were living with a woman, Ruth Paine, in Irving. Marina and Lee Oswald had two children, Rachel and June.
After her husband was killed, Marina married Kenneth Porter. She worked at an Army Navy Surplus Store in uptown. Eventually, she retired. She’s now in her early 70s.
As the 50th anniversary approaches, there’s renewed interest in Marina and the life she’s lived.
She has declined almost every interview request in 50 years. But we can glean details about her life based on the few interviews she has granted.
Her first interview
In her first television interview after her husband was killed, Marina Oswald spoke with KRLD-TV in Dallas. She said she visited his grave once or twice a week.
Did Lee Oswald kill the president?
“I don’t want to believe, but I have too much facts and facts tell me that Lee shot Kennedy,” she said.
She said she wanted to stay in Texas. She didn’t want to go back to Russia. Instead, she wanted to be an American citizen.
She thanked Americans who had sent her cards or donations.
“I want to thank you, American people, thank you from me and from my children,” she said. “American people have very big heart.”
She said she loved her husband.
“I loved Lee,” she said. “I’m sorry for him. Because he died very young.”
Here’s her first interview:
Changing her mind
But Marina Oswald later changed her opinion on whether Lee Oswald shot the president.
She said he was framed.
“I can’t in my mind, I could never put Lee against Kennedy,” she told a TV show, “Hard Copy,” in 1990. ”That never made sense to me.”
In 1993, in an interview with Tom Brokaw on NBC, Marina Oswald was even more adamant that her husband didn’t kill the president.
“He definitely did not fire the shots,” she said.
Here’s her interview with NBC in 1993:
Living with guilt
Marina Oswald said she thought of Nov. 22, 1963, every day.
“I feel like a hunchback, the stone that’s trapped on me, I cannot get rid of it,” she told “Hard Copy.”
She said she went through a range of emotions in the years following the assassination.
“Guilt, tried to prove that I am worthy of this country, tried to go backwards to please people. … ‘Please like me, I’m OK,’” she said.
“You learn to live not with the guilt that you shed because you are you and you’re not responsible for somebody’s doing, whether it’s your child or husband, gradually you get out of that guilty conscience,” she said. “I’m sympathetic to Lee, many times, but I’m also angry at him. He left me to swim in the dirty water. … So many times I questioned: ‘Did he use me as well? Does he really care for me at all?’”
But Lee was far from perfect.
“It wouldn’t be proper for me to portray Lee as an angel or put a halo on his head,” she said in a 1988 interview.
Would Lee Harvey Oswald have wanted to go down as the man who killed JFK?
“I’ve asked myself the question 1,001 times,” she said during the 1988 interview. “I could never make myself comfortable, I never could buy the idea that Lee did not like or want to kill President Kennedy. Everything I learned about President Kennedy was good through Lee.”
Here’s part of her “Hard Copy” interview:
Other family members speak
Marina's daughter, June Oswald, spoke with NBC in 1993 about her family.
“For 25 years, it was a subject we didn’t talk much around the house,” June Oswald said. “For 25 years it was a subject that we didn’t talk much around the house. Mom would try to keep us sheltered.”
But she insisted that the case regarding her dad’s involvement in the JFK killing isn’t closed.
“There’s a lot of information that we’d like to get – for me and my family,” she said.
She wouldn’t say whether her dad killed JFK.
“If all the facts are out and say Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin and he did it, then I will accept that,” she told NBC. “I’ll accept whatever the truth is.”
Here’s June Oswald on NBC’s “Today”:
In 1995, Texas Monthly interviewed Marina's other daughter, Rachel Oswald. In high school, when she was on the cheerleading squad, some people in the stands would shout: “Your daddy shot Kennedy” and “Good thing your daddy’s dead and buried.” But, mostly, she said, things were “pretty normal.”
“I didn’t know my family was any different until I was about seven,” Rachel said. “One day, my mother sat my sister and me down on our big green couch and told us that the man who had raised us as our father—our stepfather, Kenneth—was not, you know, our real father, and that our real father’s name was Lee Oswald and that he had, well, that he had been accused of killing the president of the United States.” Rachel smiled. “This helped explain why our school bus was sometimes followed by news teams, why our mailbox got shot at, why kids at school would ask, ‘Did your daddy shoot the president?’ At home we rarely discussed Lee. We were just trying to be a normal family. Every once in a while my mother would say that I looked like him, that I ate like him, that my legs looked like his legs, but for the most part we just didn’t talk about it.” …
“I remember that my mother was very beautiful, that she had been written up in Life magazine. When we moved to Rockwall, which was much smaller than Richardson—people there lived on farming and football—everyone in town knew my mother. She was this delicate Russian beauty, widowed by a man who shot the president. We were of interest to people. For the most part, folks were nice, but they were always whispering things. I remember that helicopters flew over my mother’s wedding to my stepfather, that it was sort of a big deal in the news.”
KERA wants to hear your JFK stories and memories. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may contact you or use your memory in an upcoming story.