Make mention of the name Lee Harvey Oswald and most people will immediately – and quite understandably – think of the tragic events that occurred at Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Oswald was killed two days later by a local nightclub owner with Mafia ties. His name was Jack Ruby. The fact is that because Ruby fatally shot Oswald, he – Oswald - never went to trial. It’s an assumption, a theory, that Oswald was the gunman (or one of several gunmen) at the Grassy Knoll when JFK was killed. A theory is all it’s likely to remain: given the large passage of time since November 1963. And, the fact that just about anyone with firsthand knowledge of the affair is now dead themselves, practically ensures that the mystery is almost certainly not going to be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone with an opinion on the matter. Still on the matter of Lee Harvey Oswald, it’s a lesser known fact that some researchers suggest that Oswald was involved in an earlier assassination operation – albeit one that failed. Much of what we know of this other affair comes from the controversial Warren Commission that addressed the murder of the president and concluded that Oswald was the killer. On this other, intriguing issue the Warren Commission members began as follows, under the heading of “The Attempt on the Life of Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker”:
"At approximately 9 p.m., on April 10, 1963, in Dallas, Tex., Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, an active and controversial figure on the American political scene since his resignation from the U.S. Army in 1961, narrowly escaped death when a rifle bullet fired from outside his home passed near his head as he was seated at his desk. There were no eyewitnesses, although a 14-year-old boy in a neighboring house claimed that immediately after the shooting he saw two men, in separate cars, drive out of a church parking lot adjacent to Walker's home. A friend of Walker’s testified that two nights before the shooting he saw ‘two men around the house peeking in windows.’ General Walker gave this information to the police before the shooting, but it did not help solve the crime. Although the bullet was recovered from Walker's house, in the absence of a weapon it was of little investigatory value. General Walker hired two investigators to determine whether a former employee might have been involved in the shooting. Their results were negative. Until December 3, 1963, the Walker shooting remained unsolved.
"One of the most intriguing of all the aspects of this particular story reads as follows: The Commission evaluated the following evidence in considering whether Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shot which almost killed General Walker: (1) A note which Oswald left for his wife on the evening of the shooting, photographs found among Oswald's possessions after the assassination of President Kennedy, (3) firearm identification of the bullet found in Walker's home, and (4) admissions and other statements made to Marina Oswald by Oswald concerning the shooting. Note left by Oswald --- On December 2, 1963, Mrs. Ruth Paine turned over to the police some of the Oswalds' belongings, including a Russian volume entitled "Book of Useful Advice." In this book was an undated note written in Russian. In translation, the note read as follows: This is the key to the mailbox which is located in the main post office in the city on Ervay Street. This is the same street where the drugstore, in which you always waited is located. You will find the mailbox in the post office which is located 4 blocks from the drugstore on that street. I paid for the box last month so don't worry about it. 2. Send the information as to what has happened to me to the Embassy and include newspaper clippings (should there be anything about me in the newspapers). I believe that the Embassy will come quickly to your assistance on learning everything. 3. I paid the house rent on the 2d so don't worry about it. 4. Recently I also paid for water and gas. 5. The money from work will possibly be coming.
"The money will be sent to our post office box. Go to the bank and cash the check. 6. You can either throw out or give my clothing, etc. away. Do not keep these. However, I prefer that you hold on to my personal papers (military, civil, etc.). 7. Certain of my documents are in the small blue valise. 8. The address book can be found on my table in the study should need same. 9. We have friends here. The Red Cross also will help you. 10. I left you as much money as I could, $60 on the second of the month. You and the baby can live for another 2 months using $10 per week. 11. If I am alive and taken prisoner, the city jail is located at the end of the bridge through which we always passed on going to the city (right in the beginning of the city after crossing the bridge). James C. Cadigan, FBI handwriting expert, testified that this note was written by Lee Harvey Oswald.
"The members of the Warren Commission added: Prior to the Walker shooting on April 10, Oswald had been attending typing classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings. He had quit these classes at least a week before the shooting, which occurred on a Wednesday night. According to Marina Oswald's testimony, on the night of the Walker shooting, her husband left their apartment on Neely Street shortly after dinner. She thought he was attending a class or was on his own business. When he failed to return by 10 or 10:30 p.m., Marina Oswald went to his room and discovered the note. She testified: “When he came back I asked him what had happened. He was very pale. I don't remember the exact time, but it was very late. And he told me not to ask him any questions. He only told me he had shot at General Walker.” Oswald told his wife that he did not know whether he had hit Walker; according to Marina Oswald when he learned on the radio and in the newspapers the next day that he had missed, he said that he “was very sorry that he had not hit him.” Marina Oswald's testimony was fully supported by the note itself which appeared to be the work of a man expecting to be killed, or imprisoned, or to disappear. The last paragraph directed her to the jail and the other paragraphs instructed her on the disposal of Oswald's personal effects and the management of her affairs if he should not return.
The Warren Commission was far from being done with this controversial affair: "It is clear that the note was written while the Oswalds were living in Dallas before they moved to New Orleans in the spring of 1963. The references to house rent and payments for water and gas indicated that the note was written when they were living in a rented apartment; therefore it could not have been written while Marina Oswald was living with the Paines. Moreover, the reference in paragraph 3 to paying “'the house rent on the 2d' would be consistent with the period when the Oswalds were living on Neely Street since the apartment was rented on March 3, 1963. Oswald had paid the first month's rent in advance on March 2, 1963, and the second month's rent was paid on either April 2 or April 3. The main post office 'on Ervay Street' refers to the post office where Oswald rented box 2915 from October 9, 1962, to May 14, 1963. Another statement which limits the time when it could have been written is the reference 'you and the baby,' which would indicate that it was probably written before the birth of Oswald's second child on October 20, 1963. Oswald had apparently mistaken the county jail for the city jail. From Neely Street the Oswalds would have traveled downtown on the Beckley bus, across the Commerce Street viaduct and into downtown Dallas through the Triple Underpass. Either the viaduct or the underpass might have been the 'bridge' mentioned in the last paragraph of the note. The county jail is at the corner of Houston and Main Streets "right in the beginning of the city" after one travels through the underpass."
The commission secured illuminating information from Marina Oswald, as the relevant papers demonstrate, something which led to a debate concerning certain, intriguing photos: "In her testimony before the Commission in February 1964, Marina Oswald stated that when Oswald returned home on the night of the Walker shooting, he told her that he had been planning the attempt for 2 months. He showed her a notebook 3 days later containing photographs of General Walker's home and a map of the area where the house was located. Although Oswald destroyed the notebook, three photographs found among Oswald's possessions after the assassination were identified by Marina Oswald as photographs of General Walker's house. Two of these photographs were taken from the rear of Walker's house. The Commission confirmed, by comparison with other photographs, that these were, indeed, photographs of the rear of Walker's house. An examination of the window at the rear of the house, the wall through which the bullet passed, and the fence behind the house indicated that the bullet was fired from a position near the point where one of the photographs was taken. The third photograph identified by Marina Oswald depicts the entrance to General Walker's driveway from a back alley. Also seen in the picture is the fence on which Walker's assailant apparently rested the rifle. An examination of certain construction work appearing in the background of this photograph revealed that the picture was taken between March 8 and 12, 1963, and most probably on either March 9 or March 10. Oswald purchased the money order for the rifle on March 12, the rifle was shipped on March 20, and the shooting occurred on April 10."
A photography expert with the FBI was able to determine that this picture was taken with the Imperial Reflex camera owned by Lee Harvey Oswald. A fourth photograph, showing a stretch of railroad tracks, was also identified by Marina Oswald as having been taken by her husband, presumably in connection with the Walker shooting. Investigation determined that this photograph was taken approximately seven-tenths of a mile from Walker's house. Another photograph of railroad tracks found among Oswald's possessions was not identified by his wife, but investigation revealed that it was taken from a point slightly less than half a mile from General Walker's house. Marina Oswald stated that when she asked her husband what be had done with the rifle, he replied that he had buried it in the ground or hidden it in some bushes and that he also mentioned a railroad track in this connection. She testified that several days later Oswald recovered his rifle and brought it back to their apartment. In a section titled “Firearms identification,” the Warren Commission reported:
"In the room beyond the one in which General Walker was sitting on the night of the shooting the Dallas police recovered a badly mutilated bullet which had come to rest on a stack of paper. The Dallas City County Investigation Laboratory tried to determine the type of weapon which fired the bullet. The oral report was negative because of the battered condition of the bullet. On November 30, 1963, the FBI requested the bullet for ballistics examination; the Dallas Police Department forwarded it on December 2, 1963. Robert A. Frazier, an FBI ballistics identification expert, testified that he was "unable to reach a conclusion" as to whether or not the bullet recovered from Walker's house had been fired from the rifle found on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building. He concluded that "the general rifling characteristics of the rifle are of the same type as those found on the bullet and, further, on this basis the bullet could have been fired from the rifle on the basis of its land and groove impressions." Frazier testified further that the FBI 'avoids the category of "probable" identification. Unless the missile or cartridge case can be identified as coming from a particular weapon to the exclusion of all others, the FBI refuses to draw any conclusion as to probability.
"Frazier testified, however, that he found no microscopic characteristics or other evidence which would indicate that the bullet was not fired from the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle owned by Lee Harvey Oswald. It was a 6.5-millimeter bullet and, according to Frazier, "relatively few" types of rifles could produce the characteristics found on the bullet. Joseph D. Nicol, superintendent of the Illinois Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, conducted an independent examination of this bullet and concluded "that there is a fair probability" that the bullet was fired from the rifle used in the assassination of President Kennedy. In explaining the difference between his policy and that of the FBI on the matter of probable identification, Nicol said: “I am aware of their position. This is not, I am sure, arrived at without careful consideration. However, to say that because one does not find sufficient marks for identification that it is a negative, I think is going overboard in the other direction. And for purposes of probative value, for whatever it might be worth, in the absence of very definite negative evidence, I think it is permissible to say that in an exhibit such as there is enough on it to say that it could have come, and even perhaps a little stronger, to say that it probably came from this, without going so far as to say to the exclusion of all other guns. This I could not do.”
In its final words on this particular affair, the Warren Commission noted the following: "Although the Commission recognizes that neither expert was able to state that the bullet which missed General Walker was fired from Oswald's rifle to the exclusion of all others, this testimony was considered probative when combined with the other testimony linking Oswald to the shooting. Additional corroborative evidence.---The admissions made to Marina Oswald by her husband are an important element in the evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shot at General Walker. As shown above, the note and the photographs of Walker's house and of the nearby railroad tracks provide important corroboration for her account of the incident. Other details described by Marina Oswald coincide with facts developed independently of her statements. She testified that her husband had postponed his attempt to kill Walker until that Wednesday because he had heard that there was to be a gathering at the church next door to Walker's house on that evening. He indicated that he wanted more people in the vicinity at the time of the attempt so that his arrival and departure would not attract great attention. An official of this church told FBI agents that services are held every Wednesday at the church except during the month of August.
"Marina Oswald also testified that her husband had used a bus to return home. A study of the bus routes indicates that Oswald could have taken any one of several different buses to Walker's house or to a point near the railroad tracks where he may have concealed the rifle. It would have been possible for him to take different routes in approaching and leaving the scene of the shooting. Conclusion.--- Based on (1) the contents of the note which Oswald left for his wife on April 10, 1963, (2) the photographs found among Oswald's possessions, (3) the testimony of firearms identification experts, and (4) the testimony of Marina Oswald, the Commission has concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to take the life of Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker (Resigned, U.S. Army) on April 10, 1963. The finding that Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to murder a public figure in April 1963 was considered of probative value in this investigation, although the Commission's conclusion concerning the identity of the assassin was based on evidence independent of the finding that Oswald attempted to kill General Walker.
Taking into consideration the many twists and turns that dominated the short life of Lee Harvey Oswald, it’s not a surprise that the theory suggesting he shot – and tried to kill – General Walker has been disputed. Critics note that Marina gave controversial, contradictory data to the Warren Commission. The claim that the rifle allegedly used to kill President Kennedy matched the one that Oswald – also allegedly – attempted to assassinate Walker with has been dismissed. Who knows the "real" truth of it all?