Lee Harvey Oswald was twenty-four years-old when he was accused of assassinating US President John F. Kennedy and killing police officer J.D. Tippet, in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
Oswald was born in New Orleans in 1939, the youngest of three sons of Marguerite Oswald. His father died two months before his birth. Marguerite led an unstable and nomadic life and at one point left her sons in foster care. When Marguerite remarried, the children returned to live with her but the marriage quickly collapsed and Marguerite continued her nomadic life. Lee's older brother joined the Marines, while the other found work. Eventually Marguerite and the adolescent Lee, moved to New York City. Lee claimed that he became a believer in communism when he read a pamphlet given to him in New York describing the execution of the Ethel and Julius Rosenberg--the atomic bomb spies.
Lee became truant from school and was eventually put into a juvenile detention home. Psychiatric reports characterize him as "intelligent" but disturbed. It is believed today, that Lee Harvey Oswald suffered from dyslexia--a learning disorder that makes it difficult to read and write. Despite his intelligence, his writing is full of grammatical and spelling errors.
Marguerite eventually moved back to New Orleans where Lee continued his high school education. He attempted to join the Communist Party and publicly avowed his Marxist beliefs at a time when communism was regarded with extreme hostility in the US. It is believed it was more symptomatic of his rebellion in conservative Louisiana than of any deep political beliefs or convictions. And indeed, in 1956 Lee Harvey Oswald joined the US Marine Corps. He eventually served in Japan and the Pacific and qualified as a "marksman" -- signifying competent but not exceptional shooting abilities.
Oswald became disillusioned with the Marines and was court-martialed and sentenced to 30-days in the brig for pouring a drink on a sergeant and for a previous offense, possession of an unauthorized weapon--a derringer pistol, with which in circumstances still unexplained, he shot himself in the arm. Eventually he managed to secure an early discharge from the Marines in September 1959.
To everyone's surprise, Oswald arrived in Moscow on a tourist trip in October. Oswald approached Soviet authorities requesting Soviet citizenship so that he could remain in the USSR and study at Moscow University. Oswald was a teenage defector: he was nineteen, just short of his twentieth birthday. His defection was noted in the New York Times and several other newspapers. At first the Soviets attempted to turn Oswald away and were about to expel him when he staged a dramatic "suicide attempt" by slashing his wrists. His wounds, according to Soviet medical records were superficial and intended to delay his expulsion. He succeeded.
To his bitter disappointment, Oswald was not granted Soviet citizenship but given temporary refugee status. Nor was he admitted to Moscow University; he was instead sent to a more remote city of Minsk where he was put to work in a radio factory as a lathe operator. In 1961, Oswald met and married Marina Prusakova and a daughter, June, was born to them. By then, Oswald was disillusioned with his life in the USSR and sought a return to the US for himself and his wife and child.
Oswald returned to the US in June 1962 with his wife Marina and their infant daughter. The next eighteen months would be an unhappy and unstable period for Lee Oswald as his plans of writing a book about his life in the USSR did not gain fruition, he was able to find employment only in menial jobs, and his marriage began to disintegrate. Oswald continued to be politically active, particularly in the "Hands Off Cuba" movement in the wake of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. However, his political activities seem to have been entirely self-organized. It does not appear that he was part of any group effort.
In the winter of 1963 he acquired the rifle and handgun which would be eventually linked to the deaths of Kennedy and Tippet. It is believed that in the spring of 1963, Oswald attempted to assassinate right-wing retired General Walker in Texas, but failed when the bullet hit a window sash in the room in which Walker was standing. Once again disillusioned, Oswald now attempted to move to Cuba or return to the USSR, but both the Soviet and Cuban authorities rebuffed his efforts in the summer of 1963.
With his marriage collapsing, his political activities rebuffed even by the left-wing movements on whose behalf he was acting, his book unfinished and rejected by those who read the fragmentary manuscript, it is alleged that Oswald 'snapped' and fired three shots at the Presidential motorcade passing below the windows of a warehouse where he was employed. He then left the premises--the only employee to do so--abandoning his rifle--and returned briefly to his apartment and picked up his .38 handgun. He then proceeded towards an unknown destination when he was stopped by Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet -- probably because he fit the general description of the suspected assassin reported on the police radio system. It is alleged that Oswald shot Tippet dead and ran into a movie house. Following witness reports police entered the movie house and when they surrounded Oswald he attempted to shoot another police officer but was disarmed before he could fire.
Oswald never came to trial. On November 24, he was shot dead by a mentally deranged night club owner, Jack Ruby, as he was being transferred on live television from Dallas Police HQ to the County Jail. His death before his trial, spawned an enormous body of conspiracy theories, none of which have been definitively substantiated. While there remains a margin of possibility that Oswald acted as part of a conspiracy, or perhaps was entirely innocent and was "framed", the bulk of reliable evidence suggests that Oswald was the only gunman involved in the assassination of JFK, was acting entirely alone and was the murderer of police officer J.D. Tippet.
Biography contributed by Peter Vronsky