Remembering the monumental unhappiness of a future assassin’s mother

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

Sixty years ago in Dallas President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald displayed superior marksmanship. Eerily, Kennedy once predicted a shooter high in a building could perpetrate such horror. Oswald fired from the sixth floor of his workplace.

So many books have been written about it. Deanne Stillman just heaved another onto the pile. In “American Confidential: Uncovering the Bizarre Story of Lee Harvey Oswald and His Mother” she scrutinizes the role Oswald’s mother played in nurturing that monster, her youngest son.

Lee Harvey Oswald was a classic case of a guy born at a disadvantage. His father died before he was born. His mother, Marguerite, was an unhappy woman. Young Lee was rootless, yanked out of schools whenever they moved; Louisiana, Texas, New York.

Marguerite married a fellow with a good job who seemed like he could be a decent stepfather; the marriage quickly imploded. He was fooling around and she caught him in the act. Instability was their norm.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Whenever little Lee did something wrong, got in trouble, misbehaved; his mother defended him, never admitting his faults. She was overprotective, coddling him. A neighbor recalled Lee would come home from school rudely demanding something to eat then mom would jump right to it.

An indifferent student, the boy had anger issues, frequently getting into fights. He had few friends. One boy remembered when Lee wanted to steal a pistol he spotted on display in a shop window. Ultimately he dropped out of school to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

That troublemaker was court martialed three times but lingered long enough to become an accurate shooter. Then he defected to the Soviet Union where he met the lovely Marina, his future wife. Three years later, back in Texas, his marriage was on the rocks.

In November of 1963 Marina was living with a friend named Ruth Paine. Lee was dwelling elsewhere under an assumed name. The night before he killed JFK, Oswald was over there with Marina. The next morning he removed a large bundle from Ruth Paine’s garage.

The bundle contained the assassin’s rifle. The author cites a superb book as a source; “Mrs. Paine’s Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy” (2002) by Thomas Mallon. Mallon interviewed Ruth Paine. Incredibly, Deanne Stillman did too. Ruth Paine is now in her 90s. During the 1950s Ruth Paine was in Yellow Springs attending Antioch College.

Oswald was apprehended then quickly assassinated by Jack Ruby. His mother cashed in on his notoriety. Sixty years later disillusioned young men still act out their rage. And people associated with killers still monetize such opportunities. Some things never change.

The book’s title promises tantalizing “bizarre” revelations about Oswald’s mother. This reviewer came away from the book feeling let down. Marguerite Oswald was angry, disillusioned, grasping, irresponsible, greedy, and a lousy mother. Was that bizarre? Is this new information? Sadly, it seems rather common.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

About the Author