There were were two Lee Harvey Oswalds, according to some conspiracists

Theories of Two Lee Harvey Oswalds

Seeing Oswald Double

In the real world, witnesses are sometimes mistaken. Official documents sometimes contain errors. People when photographed on occasions months or years apart look different in the photos.

So if we find witnesses who saw "Lee Oswald" where Lee Oswald could not have been, if we find discrepancies in Oswald's height in different records, and if he looks different in different photos, that might seem normal -- unless you are a conspiracy theorist. In that case, you might see evidence of two Oswalds. And if there were two Oswald's, at least one of them must have been up to something sinister. An intelligence agent, perhaps, or an Oswald impersonator working to "set up" the real Lee Oswald as a patsy.

These theories have been around for a long time, dating back to 1966 when philosopher Richard Popkin published The Second Oswald. In 1975 Michael H. B. Eddowes published Khrushchev Killed Kennedy. Eddowes gained sufficient influence over Marina Oswald to induce her to approve the exhumation of Lee Oswald in an attempt to prove that a "second Oswald" was buried in his grave. Then in the 1980s W.R. Morris and Robert Cutler added Alias Oswald to this literature.

Currently, the most active of the "two Oswalds" theorists is one John Armstrong, whose theories are supported on a website run by Jim Hargrove. According to Hargrove:

JFK researcher John Armstrong has shown that the Warren Commission combined the biographies of two different people to arrive at the classic legend of Lee Harvey Oswald. One was a Russian speaking youth, possibly the child of Hungarian parents. Mr. Armstrong notes that this person preferred to be called "Harvey." The other was a taller but similar looking boy with a Southern U.S. accent, born as "Lee Harvey Oswald," and who preferred to be called "Lee." Both youths became entangled at an early age in an American intelligence operation designed to give a U.S. identity to a Russian-speaking child. It was "Harvey" who traveled to Russia and was shot dead by Jack Ruby. It was "Lee" who framed "Harvey" for the assassination of JFK. The operation began when both "Harvey" and "Lee" were CHILDREN, but it probably did not become entangled in the plot to assassinate President Kennedy until the spring and summer of 1963.
Armstrong further explains differences in temperament between these two individuals:
"Harvey" was the Russian speaking, communist-promoting Oswald --- the person killed by Jack Ruby. People's descriptions of "Lee Harvey Oswald" often vary widely with respect to eye color, height, weight, hair color and physical characteristics. Lee often got drunk, got into fights and never spoke or read Russian or supported communism. Harvey rarely drank, was never known to get into a fight; he spoke, read and wrote Russian, and supported communism. The character profiles of these two people, as described by dozens of witnesses, are quite different and distinct. (Harvey and Lee --- Just the Facts, Please)

What sort of evidence of "two Oswalds" do these theorists present?

Differences in Photos

Hargrove presents the following two photos as evidence, with "Lee" at the left, and "Harvey" at right. They do look different, but then the first was shot in September 1959, when Lee Harvey Oswald was aged 19, and the second on November 22nd, 1963, over four years later.

Mug Shot Supposedly showing two different Oswalds

Conspiracy researcher Jack White has assembled 77 photos of Oswald in poster form. He, like Armstrong, believes these photos show two Oswalds, although some of the photos are (he thinks) composites with elements of both men!

However, there are experts who have the skill to go beyond just eyeballing two figures in a photo, and deciding they "look different." They are called "forensic anthropologists," and they specialize in analyzing enduring features of the human anatomy. The House Select Committee on Assassinations employed a panel of forensic anthropologists, and they concluded that all extant photos show the same person -- Lee Harvey Oswald.

As W. Tracy Parnell points out, "The major problem with Armstrong's ideas is his heavy reliance on eyewitness reports placing Oswald in various unlikely locations." Yet witness testimony is inherently unreliable.

Oswald "Sightings"

In the wake of any celebrated crime, a rash of "sightings" of the suspect is reported to authorities. Given that the Kennedy assassination was the crime of the century, it's no surprise that literally hundreds of witnesses claimed to have seen Oswald in some locale where the Warren Commission's Lee Harvey Oswald could not have been. One very interesting set of such "sightings" is described by Chris W. Courtwright in his article Oswald in Aliceland? Courtwright discusses a series of witnesses in and around Alice, Texas, who claimed to have seen Lee Oswald in early October, 1963, when the real Lee Oswald was in Dallas. In reading these accounts, keep in mind that: Thus it's hard to avoid the conclusion that these accounts are merely more sightings, like those discussed in the Warren Commission Report.

Supposed Forged Earnings Records

According to the Warren Commission Report, Lee Oswald entered the Marine Corps on October 24, 1956. Yet John Armstrong discovered an FBI report showing that Palmer E. McBride, a friend of Oswald's in New Orleans, remembered working with him at the Pfisterer Dental Lab in late 1957 and in early 1958. The simple explanation would be that McBride was mistaken, since tax records obtained by the Warren Commission showed that Oswald worked at Pfisterer in 1956. But Armstrong then had the owner of Pfisterer ask the IRS about the date on which the Employer Identification Number on Oswald's tax records was created. The IRS replied it was created in January, 1964, eight years after Oswald supposedly worked at Pfisterer! Since the tax records were in the hands of the FBI in January, 1964, Armstrong believed he had the "smoking gun" showing FBI forgery of the tax records, apparently to cover up the existence of a "second Oswald." Here, in a letter to the Assassination Records Review Board, Armstrong outlines his discovery.

However, when researcher Douglas Horne of the Review Board looked into this he found a much more mundane explanation for the "creation date" of the Employer Identification Number. Further, Oswald's 1956 tax return shows him working at Pfisterer, J. R. Michels, and Tujague's. All of this is consistent with the Warren Commission version of Lee Oswald's whereabouts, and inconsistent with a "second Oswald" being in New Orleans when the first one (or was it the second?) was in the Marines.

Oswald in North Dakota?

Among the witnesses placing Lee Oswald in places the Warren Commission said he never was is William Henry Timmer, who placed a teenage Oswald in North Dakota. As was the case with Palmer McBride (see above), the simplest conclusion is that Timmer was mistaken. But again, Armstrong was convinced that he had found corroboration for Oswald being in North Dakota.

On the day following the assassination, an article appeared in numerous newspapers written by Aline Mosby, a UPI reporter who interviewed Oswald in Moscow when he first defected. The article says:

Then we moved to North Dakota and I discovered one book in the library, Das Kapital. It was what I'd been looking for.
Again, we have "corroboration." Here is evidence that an "Oswald" was in North Dakota when the Warren Commission put Lee Oswald in New Orleans. Unfortunately, a little research showed the "North Dakota" reference to be a typographical error, apparently the result of a handwritten "NO" looking very much like "ND." So Armstrong's "corroboration" for his witness account again disappears.

The Handwriting of "Lee" and "Harvey"

If Armstrong's "Lee" and his "Harvey" were in fact two different persons, they ought to have different handwriting. But W. Tracy Parnell looked at the expert analysis of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and found that documents supposedly written by "Lee" and documents supposedly written by "Harvey" were in fact written by the same man.

Who is Buried in Lee Oswald's Grave?

If there were two Oswalds, then only one of them could be buried in "Lee Oswald's grave" in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. So the man buried there would be different from one of the documented "Oswalds." In 1981, Oswald's body was exhumed and examined. The mortician who attended the procedure claimed that the cement burial vault was found to be "broken open" when dug up, that Oswald's skull showed no evidence of a craniotomy (in which the skull bones are cut to allow access to the brain), and that the head was found to be severed from the body. Did the conspirators replace the head of a "fake Oswald" with the head of the true one (or vice versa) to conceal the fact of two different "Oswalds"? Duke Lane examined this issue in his article "Grave Doubts: A Report on the Exhumation and Autopsy of the Remains of Lee Harvey Oswald."


So is there nothing at all to the "two Oswalds" theories? No, nothing at all. The whole rickety structure is built on unreliable witness testimony, carefully selected and inaccurate documents, and a mountain of implausible supposition. Which makes it a fitting metaphor for JFK assassination conspiracy theories generally.
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