Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia
All Hoover meant was that a Soviet operative who might loosely fit Oswald's age and appearance, might enter the country using his identification and set up an entirely new life, nothing to do with the real Oswald's past. Such an operative would do everything in his power to stay clear of even the remotest contact with anybody who might have known the genuine Oswald, let alone go live in Oswald's brother's house immediately upon his entry into the USA. This interpretation is further supported by an earlier May 23, 1960 FBI report that sparked Hoover's original memo. Special Agent Fain, reporting on his interview with Marguerite Oswald, Lee's mother, about her concerns over Lee's fate in the Soviet Union, wrote: "Furthermore, since Oswald had his birth certificate in his possession, another individual may have assumed his identity." [NARA JFK RIF 124-10010-10010] Fain's meaning is much clearer than Hoover's memo with its unfortunately ill choice of the word "imposter" which spawned a bunch of wacky Oswald substitution theories. Those theories have little to do with reality of intelligence methodology. Aside from operations like the World War II episode where an imposter posed as Field Marshall Montgomery in public events and posed press photographs leaked to the Germans, allowing the real Montgomery to prepare an offensive elsewhere, I am unaware of any intelligence operation where an actual person has been entirely substituted by another, like in the Prince and the Pauper or The Man in the Iron Mask.
Nonetheless, there was the haunting photograph of Oswald posing with his wife Marina, the only known full-length photo of the couple, where the 5'11" Oswald (according to his passport) is barely taller than the 5'3" Marina. This photo is often cited by the Oswald substitutionists. There it was, in black and white: the height discrepancy was undeniable and Oswald is toe-to-toe with Marina who is wearing flats. How could the 5'11" Oswald (or 5'9" as other records indicate [USMC photo for example] ) appear to be in the photo only one or two inches higher than the 5'3" Marina? It is a photograph that traveled with me to the Soviet Union.
By the end of my first two trips, I thought that I had solved the mystery, and I published my solution in the Third Decade. I wrote that the woman in the photo was not Marina, but Lucy Petrusevich, a friend of Marina's who resembled her. But I was wrong, and I deeply regret my mistake. I myself fell in the very trap that I accuse many JFK researchers of falling into: fitting witness statements and theories to pre-conceived ideas. My preconception was that the kind of substitution that some theorists propose does not exist, and I hungrily grasped at any data to support my preconception.
This is what happened:
On my first trip to the Soviet Union, one of the things I did was to show witnesses photographs, and ask them for any comments or memories that the images might spark. I noticed that several people when looking at the photo of Oswald and Marina, said, "Oh, that is Alek (as Oswald was known in Russia) with Marina's best friend, Lucy." Another person came right out and told me that there was a famous photo of Oswald with Lucy that was mistakenly described as Oswald with Marina. Unfortunately, Lucy Petrusevich was away on vacation that summer and I could not contact her.
Several months later, on my second return to Minsk, I made interviewing Lucy
a priority. By then she was anxiously awaiting our arrival to tell us her
story. According to her, a number of photographs were taken that day on the
embankment of the river near Oswald's apartment. (It is not a bridge, as it is
sometimes described.) At one point, Lucy claimed, Marina snapped a photo of her
with Oswald, and that is the photo we see. Lucy said that she and Marina
looked almost identical, except that she was a little taller than Marina.
That could have explained the height discrepancy.
I naively challenged Lucy, pointing out that the coat the woman was wearing in the photo was identical to one that Marina is seen wearing in other photographs. (Naively, because in the USSR's command economy, there was not a wide choice in coat styles -- every woman in the entire city might have been wearing the same type of coat.) Lucy, without hesitation, immediately came back with a response to my challenge. She stated that it was a warm spring morning when she left her house and she did not put on a coat. By the time the photographs were taken, it became cool, and she borrowed Marina's coat. "Yes, yes, that's me," Lucy said, gazing down at the photograph.
Because there had to be some sort of rational explanation for the height discrepancy, other than the substitution theory, I finally accepted Lucy's story, and regrettably published it. It was a mistake.
I had secured Lucy's agreement to videotape an interview
with her at a later date at the exact location where the photo was taken. Six
months later I returned with a film crew to do that interview. As we were
setting up for the shoot and I was positioning Lucy, our Russian field
producer, Olga, suddenly called our attention to something strange. When Lucy
stood at the same position that Marina stands in the photo, Lucy appeared to be
much taller than she really was. The concrete ground at the embankment gently
sloped upwards near the barrier! Anybody standing there would have their
heels lifted higher.
In the famous photo, Marina was standing on that slope. If one takes a closer look at Marina's feet in the black and white photograph below, one sees how they are slightly pointed downwards: one can see the top of her shoes and instep. Marina's right heel is raised higher than the toe and slopes downwards. Her left toe is at the same level with Oswald's, but the her heels are higher. While the shaded slope is not as easily visible in the photograph, once one knows it is there, one can make out its subtle angle. The height discrepancy, however, between people is dramatically visible even if the slope is not. That is why Oswald appears to be nearly the same height as Marina. It is not Oswald who is too short; it is Marina who is boosted higher a few inches!
[above] Lucy Petrusevich in the red dress with Olga, our Russian field producer. Lucy appears to be taller from one photo to the next as she stands near the spot Marina stood next to Oswald.
It is very easy to be misled by witnesses, especially those who sincerely believe in what they are stating. Even a slight element of truth, such as Lucy perhaps forgetting her coat at home, can lead to confirm much greater and graver errors. Had Lucy not so easily responded to my challenge over the coat, I might have hesitated before accepting her story. Had I been more patient and less inclined to fit data to my preconceived theory, I might have taken the time to search through the Warren volumes for the obscure sequence of photos taken that day. One of the things I discovered about investigating this mystery, is that one mostly comes up with repetitive, meaningless, and boring details. After all the expense and energy to travel to Russia, locate witnesses, only tiny slivers of new information were emerging, doing nothing more than giving a subtle coloring of a slightly different shade to banal and insignificant details already widely known. With day after day of this, one become desperate to find something new and dramatic and grasps at the slightest promising element.
If the facts cannot be sustained, a good researcher must be prepared to ruthlessly challenge and smother to death the results of their own hard and begin again. But it is against human nature to destroy the valuable fruits of one's labor, especially after great investments of time, hope, energy, and money. That is probably why there is so much useless crap out there dealing with the assassination. A lot of it is wishful thinking and my own experience showed me why.
Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia