The coffin of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of United States President John F. Kennedy, is at the center of a macabre lawsuit in a Dallas courtroom this week, pitting Robert Oswald, the alleged assassin’s older brother, against the owner of a funeral home that recently sold the waterlogged coffin for almost $90,000.
Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas on November 22, 1963, by sniper’s bullets as he rode in an open-topped motorcade through the city’s Dealey Plaza area. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested an hour later and charged with the assassination. But two days later, a local nightclub owner with ties to organized crime, Jack Ruby, shot Oswald as police led him through a basement of Dallas Police headquarters.
Doubts that Oswald was the true assassin quickly surfaced, and as the years went by, some historians came to believe that Oswald was in fact a covert U.S. intelligence agent. The former Marine had defected to the Soviet Union in 1960 promising to reveal valuable military secrets, only to be allowed back into the country less than two years later with no consequences for his betrayal — and in fact with the aid of a cash loan from the State Department to cover his travel expenses.
Some researchers even theorized that the man arrested for the assassination and killed by Ruby was not Lee Harvey Oswald at all, but an impersonator.
To settle those doubts, Oswald was exhumed in 1981, proving that his remains were actually in the coffin. But Oswald had to be reburied in a different coffin because the original was crumbling from water damage.
Allen Baumgardner, a funeral director who was part of the exhumation, kept the coffin and after failing to sell it on numerous occasions, finally found a buyer in 2010 at a price exceeding $87,000.
But Robert Oswald, now 80 years old, paid $300 for his younger brother’s coffin in 1963 — about $2,300 in today’s money — and says that the coffin rightfully belongs to him. In 2011, he sued Baumgardner over ownership of the coffin.
Robert Oswald claims that he had no idea the casket still existed until he heard about the 2010 sale. But a self-decsribed assassination historian named Farris Rookstool III tetsified that he told Robert Oswald in 1993 that the coffin was still around and had been put up for sale.
Baumgardner’s case is based on the assertion that Robert Oswald’s purchase of the simple pine coffin 51 years ago was a “gift” to Lee Harvey Oswald, and as a result has no claim to own the coffin. Robert Oswald has said that he believes his brother did, in fact, assassinate Kennedy.