In Friday's column, I wrote a snarky little item, based on a report on Bookwire.com, about a woman claiming to have been alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's secret squeeze in the months leading up to his death. Identified only as "Judith" by her agent, brash British up-and-comer Peter Cox, the woman is shopping around a book that Cox has called "an extraordinary love story that gives [Oswald] a human face." In my column, I oh-so-gently suggested that the story being put forth by this Judy-come-lately Lee lover and her literary rep might be just so much Cox and bull.
So perhaps I oughtn't to have been alarmed when, late Sunday night, an e-mail popped in from a woman calling herself "Judyth" and seeking to set the record straight. While Judyth commended me on my "verve" and "skepticism," admitting that she'd "have the same attitude" if presented with the same information, she railed against the Bookwire piece as "wild speculation."
Judyth is neither Mormon nor married (misinformation in the Bookwire blurb, repeated by me), although she allows that she once was both, and "almost became a nun of the order of St. Francis." She describes herself as a woman of "good character and reputation, [whose] name is on a monument ... for good citizenship." Adds Judyth, "I have never been arrested. I haven't even had a traffic ticket for I can't remember how long. I don't smoke, drink or swear." What's more, she says, she is "well aware of scams, false stories, etc." surrounding JFK's assassination and considers Kennedy conspiracy debunkers Gerald Posner and John McAdams to be "chief sinners" in promoting them. She's coming forward now because she'd like to clear her departed paramour's reputation, vowing, "I shall fight to vindicate Lee's name to the day I die," though she doesn't say how.
In her long, somewhat Gothic letter, Judyth tells a life story of scientific pursuit, intrigue and hidden passion that might make Danielle Steel envious (a quality that has not escaped bestseller-seeking Cox, I presume). She speaks of connections to David Ferrie, with whom Oswald has been linked and who was for a time considered a suspect in the case, and to Mary Sherman, a marginal figure in the assassination annals with whom Oswald has never been definitively connected. She claims to have worked with Oswald at Reilly Coffee Company in New Orleans (he got her the job, she says) and to have been fired after his arrest for passing out pamphlets because she'd been seen with him. She and Oswald were, she asserts, "most earnestly in love"; he married Marina "as a cover." Says Judyth, "I greatly resembled Marina Oswald, as I can prove by my photographs."
Clearly, Judyth very much wants us to believe her story, as does her agent, who has requested that I refrain from contacting his client or revealing sensitive information about her until the book deal is clinched. But should I believe her? Should you?
Having been born several years after the Kennedy assassination and Oswald hit, being nothing of a conspiracy buff and not having been able to stomach Oliver Stone's cinematic tripe on the matter, I contacted some people who might be able to make sense of it all.
As luck and a little connection-working would have it, former BBC journalist and author Anthony Summers, whose award-winning book on JFK's assassination was re-released last year under the title "Not in Your Lifetime" and who is known for his balanced reportage, took my call. Summers examined the Judyth papers, slim as they are, and told me that without the sort of "convincing detail and documentary evidence" Cox claims are forthcoming, it is impossible to decipher whether Judyth is "a truthful person, a lunatic, a mischief maker or a mere profiteer."
Noting that there are "real questions and lacunae in the story supplied to the public," and in particular during the time Judyth claims to have done the nasty with Oswald, Summers said it would be as foolish to dismiss her story as to accept it without more info. He told me to keep an open mind -- something that anyone who reads my column knows is not easy for me -- and wisely pointed out that, even when Judyth does offer her "evidence," her story may be difficult to verify or disprove because so much time has passed.
I also spoke briefly about Judyth with John McAdams, who runs a Kennedy Assassination Web site. Although he, too, said that without more evidence, he couldn't debunk her claim completely, he ventured that it "comes out of nowhere" and that "on the face of it, it's utterly absurd." According to McAdams, David Ferrie and Mary Sherman have never been linked and Judyth's "exceedingly implausible" story seems to be "inconsistent with a lot of things we know about Lee," including evidence that he was faithful to Marina.
But Summers is not so certain of Oswald's fidelity. He tossed me this tasty little morsel, and now that I've had my fill of it, I will wipe the slobber off and throw it to you.
Summers said "question marks" punctuate the story of the alleged assassin's sex life. During the summer of '63, Oswald's marriage to Marina had hit a rocky patch and the two were often apart. And, said the author, "It has been alleged by some that he had a brief sexual encounter with a woman from the Cuban consulate in Mexico City when he was there in September, as well as relationships with young women while he was in the Marines in Japan and the Soviet Union."
But wait, that's not all. Summers also related long-standing rumors that Oswald "may have had homosexual encounters with David Ferrie -- the very Ferrie mentioned by [Judyth] -- in his teenage years. And one CIA document I have seen says, without elaboration, words to the effect: 'We should bear in mind that Oswald was a homosexual.'"
And so I gather my now-trademark verve and skepticism and ask my pen pal Judyth what she has to say to that.