The Exhumation of Lee Harvey Oswald and the Norton Report

Part One-Michael Eddowes

By W. Tracy Parnell © 2003

Michael Eddowes

A small crowd gathered on the crisp autumn morning of October 4, 1981 at the Rose Hill Burial Park in Fort Worth, Texas to witness a unique event. The body of accused Presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was to be exhumed in order to verify that the remains buried in his grave were indeed those of the enigmatic ex-Marine. Among those in attendance that day was a well-dressed older gentleman whose manner and appearance   suggested a person of means and importance. Indeed, he was no ordinary bystander; he had begun the process that ultimately led to the unusual excavation. His name was Michael Eddowes.


Born in 1903 in Derby, England, Eddowes was a prominent lawyer, author, and restaurateur. He was an energetic youth who played tennis at Wimbledon as well as cricket on a minor-league level. After his graduation from Uppingham, he practiced law at his father’s firm before eventually establishing his own practice. In 1958, after selling his law firm two years previously, Eddowes established the Bistro Vino chain of restaurants. Other business ventures included his own sports car design that was a forerunner of the E-type Jaguar.[1] Despite his success in business and law, Eddowes was probably best known for his controversial private investigations and the books resulting from those investigations.


His first book, The Man on Your Conscience, concerned the case of Timothy Evans: a British laborer hanged in 1950 for the murder of his wife and infant child. The book, which purported to show that an inquiry and subsequent report concerning the Evans’ case was flawed, and that the British government had suppressed evidence, caused a firestorm in Great Britain and led to a new investigation and ultimately Evans’ posthumous pardon by the Queen.[2] Many credited the subsequent abolition of capital punishment in England to Eddowes’ work on the case.[3]


Despite his unqualified success with the Evans case, Eddowes was reluctant to take on similar projects.[4] However, in 1962 Eddowes became involved by chance in what would later become known as the British Profumo Scandal. This experience would lead to a trilogy of books whose thesis would eventually encompass the Chinese invasion of India, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Kennedy assassination, as well as the Profumo affair.[5]


Eddowes involvement in the scandal began when osteopath Stephen Ward treated him at his London practice following a car accident. There, in October of 1962 Ward introduced him to Soviet Naval attaché Eugene Ivanov.[6] Later, Eddowes would also meet party girl Christine Keeler who had affairs with both Ivanov and British Minister of War, John Profumo. When Profumo’s indiscretion with Keeler became public, he was forced to resign while Ward, facing criminal charges, eventually committed suicide. Eddowes believed that Ward and Ivanov had conspired to bring down Profumo.[7]


In 1963, Eddowes published a letter alleging that Ivanov had asked Keeler to obtain the date of delivery of nuclear warheads to West Germany from Profumo. Eddowes later became convinced that Ward had arranged for another woman to be sent to the U.S. to similarly compromise President Kennedy and claimed to have worked with the FBI to establish this fact.[8] Whatever the truth about the Profumo scandal’s possible ties to the Kennedy administration, there can be no doubt that Eddowes’ later work was greatly influenced by this experience.


Eddowes’ first of three assassination books was the 1975 self-published Khrushchev Killed Kennedy mostly written in Dallas where he would spend much of his time over the next several years. The book, which received little attention, contended that a Russian assassin had been substituted for the real Lee Harvey Oswald after his defection to the Soviet Union, a fact the United States government suppressed to avoid World War Three. The content of this volume would provide the backbone for most of Eddowes’ future work.


In 1976, Eddowes published Nov. 22, How They Killed Kennedy in England. This title was later released in the United States as The Oswald File and was the best known of the three volumes. Encouraged by renewed public interest in the JFK case in the wake of the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigation, Eddowes was now ready to take a bold new step. He felt that if Oswald’s body could be examined, it would prove that the man buried there was not Oswald but the Russian agent he had written about. In his mind, there was only one way to prove his theory conclusively-Oswald had to be exhumed. In 1978 he instigated an almost three-year process that ultimately led to the exhumation.[9]


Eddowes’ first course of action was to contact Dr. Felix Gwozdz, the Medical Examiner for Tarrant County, Texas where Oswald was buried and whom he assumed had jurisdiction over the remains. However, Gwozdz refused Eddowes’ request for exhumation and in January 1979, Eddowes filed a lawsuit against both Gwozdz and the District Attorney of Tarrant County. In June of 1979, the Tarrant County 141st District Court sided with Gwozdz and denied Eddowes’ request. Eddowes, who appealed the decision, had no intention of throwing in the towel and now simply shifted gears by directing his efforts to a new jurisdiction-that of neighboring Dallas County.


Working through his attorneys, Eddowes contacted Dr. Linda Norton, Assistant Dallas County Medical Examiner, in August of 1979. He again made his case for exhumation, this time suggesting that Norton’s office take jurisdiction over the case. Norton was apparently impressed by Eddowes’ argument and after consulting with Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Petty, managed to obtain copies of Oswald’s military medical and dental records in anticipation of a possible examination.[10] Shortly after obtaining the records from the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Norton was quoted by one of the Dallas papers as saying, “I feel it would be in the best public interest to conduct the exhumation. If there’s a question and a reasonable question that science can resolve, then that’s our business”.[11]


In October 1979, Dr. Petty contacted Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizan Peerwani (who had replaced the deceased Gwozdz) asking that the body of Oswald be exhumed and brought to Dallas County for an examination. Peerwani was quoted by the local media as saying, “This is a very delicate situation and we have to tread very carefully”, adding that he would need the support of the district attorney and Oswald’s mother before he could authorize an exhumation.[12] Petty’s unusual request sparked a jurisdictional battle between the neighboring counties that would last until February of 1980.[13]


Meanwhile, two men with close ties to the JFK case weighed in on the possibility of an Oswald exhumation. G. Robert Blakey, who had served as chief counsel to the recently disbanded House Select Committee on Assassinations said of Eddowes’ work, “I have read his book and it is trash. This whole question is a non question.” Blakey continued, “The committee carefully looked into the so-called two Oswalds theory… There is nothing to it.”[14] Similarly, Earl Rose, who had performed the original autopsy on Oswald, told UPI that he was certain of the identity of the corpse because of fingerprint comparisons that he made.[15]


In November of 1979, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office rejected Eddowes’ offer to pay a $15,000 deposit on an insurance bond for Oswald’s exhumation. Assistant District Attorney Marvin Collins informed Eddowes through his attorneys that the offer for a total indemnification bond of $100,000 was insufficient considering the legal risks involved.[16] By February of 1980, the exhumation battle seemed to be over when Tarrant County officials withdrew their active opposition to the exhumation. However, Dr Petty now shocked everyone by stating that he was no longer interested in conducting the exhumation under the auspices of Dallas County as he now felt it was unnecessary.[17]


After a few months of relative silence, Eddowes directed his attention toward Marina Oswald[*] and in August of 1980, she signed a consent form for Dr. Petty to perform an autopsy as a private case with Eddowes to pay all expenses. On August 14, Robert Oswald (brother of Lee Oswald) obtained a temporary restraining order from the 141st District Court halting the exhumation.[18] About a month later, the same court granted Robert’s injunction against Eddowes to block the exhumation while denying his motion against Rosehill cemetery where the grave was located.[19] Dr. Petty was dismissed from the suit when the judge ruled that he had to be sued in his home county.[20]


In the meantime, the Dallas County Commissioners publicly stated their opposition to the use of any county facility for the examination citing “adverse publicity”. On October 2, 1980 Eddowes attorneys announced plans to appeal the injunction won by Robert Oswald. While awaiting the results of the appeal, attorneys for all parties were kept busy by numerous motions and counter motions. In August of 1981, Marina filed suit against Robert to allow the exhumation to proceed.[21]


On September 17, 1981, the Court of Appeals heard the case. Finding that Robert had no “justiciable” interest in the exhumation, they reversed the decision of the 141st District Court, paving the way for the exhumation to take place. However, on September 23, Robert again won a temporary injunction from the 141st Court. But just two days later citing emotional and financial burdens, Robert withdrew his opposition to the exhumation.[22]


As events progressed, attorneys for Marina and Eddowes became convinced that they would ultimately prevail and preparations for the exhumation were made. Dr. Norton was chosen as chief forensic pathologist because of her familiarity with the case and the parties involved. Marina wanted the remains to stay in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so a search was undertaken for a suitable facility for the examination. Baylor Medical Center in Dallas was chosen after it was decided that the facility could fulfill all requirements for a secure examination.[23] On Friday October 2, Dr. Norton and Baylor were alerted that the exhumation would take place on Sunday morning following the expiration of Robert’s final restraining order on Saturday at midnight.[24] With the battle won nearly three years after he had instigated the process, Eddowes would soon have his answers.


Backhoes began the process with the onset of sufficient daylight at about 6:30 am Central time. The primary concern of those in charge of the physical exhumation was an expeditious removal of the remains for both security reasons and to minimize the impact on daily operations at Rose Hill.[25]


The initial plan called for the removal of the concrete vault containing the casket, which would then be transported to the vault company for opening. The casket itself would subsequently be removed from the vault and driven to nearby Baylor Medical Center where the examination and identification of the remains would take place. When the uncovered vault was found to be cracked this idea was abandoned and a trench was instead dug alongside the vault allowing easy access for workmen to open the Oswald crypt. It was immediately obvious that the casket and body had suffered extensive water damage because of the cracked vault. The casket cover was noted to be severely weakened and one section had fallen in, actually exposing the remains to onlookers and resolving the question of whether or not the grave was empty.[26]


The casket, covered by a specially made cardboard lid, was carefully slid onto a wooden platform that had been placed in the trench. The entire platform was then raised and placed in a waiting hearse for the trip to Baylor. The completed exhumation took about two and a half hours, by which time the small crowd had turned into a large one that included members of the news media. Rumors had circulated among the media that the examination would take place at the Dallas Institute of Forensic Science. Therefore, when the hearse started toward Dallas, many members of the press traveled to that facility instead of Baylor. This was a fortuitous development from the viewpoint of the examination team as it facilitated a quick and somewhat clandestine transfer of the remains to Baylor.[27]


The remains arrived at Baylor at about 9:20 am CDT[28] and the examination began at 10:00 am.[29] The casket was opened and it was obvious that the water that had so damaged the coffin had caused marked decomposition of the body as well. The exposed ribs crumbled with only mild pressure and the beige viscera bag[†] containing the organs (placed in the bag after the original ’63 autopsy by Dr. Earl Rose) was in full view.[30]


Mortician Paul Groody, who had embalmed and buried Oswald in 1963, remained in the examination room long enough to identify the remains as those he had worked with.[31] Groody used several observations during the brief time he was in the room in order to make this identification. First, he observed rings on the hands of the body that were placed there by Marina Oswald. The rings, a gold wedding band and a red stone ring, were the same and seemed to be in the same position as he remembered. Secondly, Groody recognized the aforementioned viscera bag that was not in common use in 1963.[32] Finally, Groody noticed that the clothes were those that he had placed on Oswald before he was laid to rest.[33] After making his identification, Groody promptly left the examination room.[34]


After a cursory examination of the body, it was time for the Norton team to do the work that would ensure a proper identification of the remains. The identification would be made primarily using dental records. However, the team was aware of two additional procedures performed on the skull of the deceased that could strengthen their findings if present. One was a craniotomy incision made by Dr. Earl Rose as a normal part of the autopsy he performed in 1963. The other was a defect in the mastoid process resulting from an operation Oswald had as a child. If both anomalies (resulting from procedures that occurred nearly twenty years apart) could be identified, it would provide convincing proof of the identity of the corpse.


The head was removed from the body in order to facilitate the examination by an incision near the second cervical vertebral interspace.[35] The autopsy saw cut was indeed present in the usual position providing the first confirmation that this was Oswald. The doctors also observed the defect from Oswald’s childhood mastoid operation, which was described as “irregularly ovoid” and about one by one-half centimeters in size.[36] Using photos taken that day, Dr. Vincent DiMaio (a member of the Norton team) told the author recently that the mastoid defect was normal in appearance. He also identified the craniotomy cut as the one he remembered.[37]


Having confirmed the autopsy cut and mastoid defect, the Norton team moved on to the dental examination. The teeth were cleaned and photographs and x-rays taken. The two forensic odontologists, Drs. Cottone and Sopher, then charted the complete dentition independently and dental casts were made.[38] The team recorded identical radiographic morphology in three teeth and similar radiographic morphology in three others. Additionally, similar pulpal anatomy was noted in one other tooth. A positive dental identification of Lee Harvey Oswald was therefore made by the team on the strength of the identical and similar factors in the dentition and the lack of any unexplainable inconsistencies.[39] A news conference was held at about 3:00 pm to announce the findings of the team. Linda Norton stepped before the cameras and made the following statement:


“The findings of the team are as follows: We independently and as a team have concluded beyond any doubt, and I mean beyond any doubt, that the individual buried under the name of Lee Harvey Oswald in Rose Hill Cemetery is in fact Lee Harvey Oswald.”[40]


The Norton team was confident that their examination would end any further speculation about the identity of the corpse. Dr. Irvin Sopher said, “… is no doubt that the in-life records and the X-rays match the body in the casket.” Sopher added that the matching of dental records can be “as exact as a fingerprint”. Dr. Norton stated that a “mist of mold” covered the body proving the remains had not been tampered with.[41]


After nearly three years of legal action and considerable expense, Michael Eddowes was gracious in defeat. Commenting through his attorneys, he stated, “Though surprised, I am in no way disappointed in the apparent disproving of my evidence of imposture. Rather, I have accomplished my objective in obtaining the exhumation and I am glad for those who have steadfastly maintained the contrary for whatever reason.”[42] Marina Oswald was “totally satisfied” with the results of the exam. She told UPI, “I always intended for this to be a private matter, but it became public because of circumstances beyond my control. It’s very unfortunate it became such a public event. Now I have my answers…”[43]


 The main characters in the drama that unfolded that autumn day had no way of knowing that the controversy about who was in the Fort Worth grave was not over. New allegations would raise further questions about the examination and fuel new theories.

Go To Part Two:

[*] Marina Oswald used her married name Porter at the time of the exhumation. She has since retaken the Oswald name and that will be used for the purposes of this series of articles.

[†] Commenting on the appearance of the organs in the bag, Dr. Vincent DiMaio, who was one of the four members of the Norton examination team, told the author “Essentially most of the tissue was the consistency of cream cheese”.


[1] London Daily Telegraph, January 1, 1994.

[2] Michael Eddowes, Khrushchev Killed Kennedy (Self-published, 1975), Author’s Preface.

[3] Michael Eddowes, The Oswald File (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1977), back cover.

[4] Ibid.

[5] London Daily Telegraph, January 1, 1994.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Michael Eddowes, The Oswald File (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1977), Prologue.

[8] London Daily Telegraph, January 1, 1994.

[9] Linda E. Norton, James A. Cottone, Irvin M. Sopher, and Vincent J. M. DiMaio, “The Exhumation and Identification of Lee Harvey Oswald,” Journal of Forensic Sciences, Volume 29, No. 1, Jan. 1984, p. 20.

[10] Linda E. Norton, James A. Cottone, Irvin M. Sopher, and Vincent J. M. DiMaio, “The Exhumation and Identification of Lee Harvey Oswald,” Journal of Forensic Sciences, Volume 29, No. 1, Jan. 1984, p. 20.

[11] “Officials Seek to Exhume Body in Oswald’s Grave,” The New York Times, October 19, 1979.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Norton et al, op. cit., p. 20.

[14] “Expert is Sure Body is Oswald’s,” The New York Times, October 20, 1979.

[15] “Pathologist Says Autopsy Verified Oswald Identity,” The New York Times, October 29, 1979.

[16] “Oswald Exhumation Bid Lost,” The New York Times, November 25, 1979.

[17] Norton et al, op. cit., p. 20.

[18] Norton et al, op. cit., p. 21.

[19] “Brother Wins Appeal to Halt Oswald Exhumation,” The New York Times, September 20, 1980.

[20] Norton et al, op. cit. p. 21.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., pp. 21-22.

[24] “Body Exhumed, Ruled Oswald’s,” The Washington Post, October 5, 1981; p. A1.

[25] Linda E. Norton, James A. Cottone, Irvin M. Sopher, and Vincent J. M. DiMaio, “The Exhumation and Identification of Lee Harvey Oswald,” Journal of Forensic Sciences, Volume 29, No. 1, Jan. 1984, p. 23.

[26] Ibid., pp. 21-23.

[27] Ibid., p. 23.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., p. 24.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., p. 23.

[32] Gary Mack, “Who Was Really in Oswald’s Grave? Part One.” Coverups!, February 1983, p. 1; Norton, op. cit., p. 24.

[33] “Episode 4-The Patsy”. The Men Who Killed Kennedy. The History Channel, September 2001.

[34] Gary Mack, “Who Was Really in Oswald’s Grave? Part 2.” Coverups!, March 1983, p. 3.

[35] Norton et al, op. cit., p. 25; This procedure and the entire examination were filmed by Hampton Hall at the request of Marina Oswald and her friend John Cullins and his personal physician viewed the tape and confirmed that the head was indeed cut from the body and not loose in the coffin as sometimes claimed. (Coverups!, Part 3).

[36] Ibid.

[37] Author Interview with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, May 24, 2001.

[38] Norton et al, op. cit., p. 25.

[39] Ibid., p. 32.

[40] “Episode 4-The Patsy”. The Men Who Killed Kennedy. The History Channel, September 2001.

[41] “Body Exhumed, Ruled Oswald’s,” The Washington Post, October 5, 1981

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

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