Ruth Paine stands by the willow tree by her home at the Friends House in Santa Rosa on Thursday, September 5, 2013. Pain had Lee Harvey Oswald's wife and children living at her home in Dallas at the time of John F. Kennedy's assassination. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Oswald's wife finds a cryptic note from her husband

Earlier that same night, Walker was seated at his desk in his Dallas home when a bullet pierced a window and passed just above his head. Authorities would determine the rifle slug was deflected upon striking the windowpane.

Many months later, Marina would testify that Lee Oswald looked pale when he arrived home that night. He told her he'd shot at Walker and didn't know if he'd hit him, she said. News accounts the next day reported that police had identified no suspects in the attempted murder.

Ruth Paine said her friend Marina confided nothing to her about Oswald having been the shooter. By that time in the spring of 1963, Paine said, she'd come to resent that Oswald was physically abusive of Marina and he wanted to control and keep her isolated. But, she said, she had no reason to suspect he was a potential killer.

On April 24, two weeks after the attempted shooting of Walker, Paine arrived at the Oswalds' apartment for a visit and found that Lee Oswald was preparing to leave Texas and travel by bus to his hometown of New Orleans. He said he needed to find work and he'd have his wife and daughter meet him there once he did.

Paine spoke up. She offered to have Marina and little June stay with her in Irving until the time came for them to join him in Louisiana. The Oswalds accepted.

Paine said the next few weeks were wonderful for her and Marina and their three children. But the happy period ended with a phone call from New Orleans: Oswald announced he'd found work greasing coffee machines and he wanted Marina and June to come at once.

"I was kind of appalled," Paine said. "He wanted his pregnant wife to take a bus to New Orleans."

So Paine packed her kids and Marina and June in her 1955 Chevrolet station wagon and drove there. After the good-byes in Louisiana, the women kept in touch through letters for about four months.

In September, Paine took Christopher and Lynn on a long road trip to visit family and play tourist. For their last major stop, they went to New Orleans to reconnect with Marina and June.

As the time approached to head back to Texas, Paine floated a proposal. She told Lee Oswald that if Marina returned to Texas with her, Paine could act as a translator and assist Marina when she went into labor. Oswald agreed.

A good deal of everything the Oswalds owned was stuffed into Paine's station wagon. The green and brown blanket that Lee Oswald placed in the back of the car set off no alarms in Paine, but inside was the rifle now widely believed to have fired the shot at ex-general Walker.

When the two mothers arrived back in Irving, they stored most of the Oswalds' possessions in Paine's garage.

On Oct. 4, it surprised everyone in the house when Lee Oswald phoned and said he was at the Irving bus station. Investigators would later learn that he'd traveled to Mexico in the intervening weeks to request a visa to travel to Cuba, but was denied.

Oswald joined his wife and daughter at Paine's home. On Oct. 14, a neighbor mentioned to Paine that the Texas School Book Depository had a staff position open. Paine phoned the book warehouse manager to say she had someone in mind for the job. Lee Oswald was hired.

By that time, Paine said, she actively disliked Oswald "but I really hadn't been worried about his mental stability."

As he began at the book warehouse, Oswald didn't have a driver's license or a car, so he rented a room in a boarding house in Dallas. He started a routine of staying there through the work week and hitching a ride to Paine's place in Irving after work Friday.

"He came out most weekends," Paine said.

The period immediately after Oswald started the job was an exceptionally busy one at the Paine household. When Lee Oswald arrived from Dallas on Oct. 18, Paine had baked him a cake for his 24th birthday. Two days later, Marina gave birth to Audrey Marina Rachel Oswald.

Just a month after that, Oswald surprised Paine by appearing at her home. It was a Thursday, and he wasn't due back from Dallas until Friday.

Later that night, after Paine put her children to bed, she went into her garage to paint some blocks. She was mildly surprised to find the garage light on. Given that Marina was occupied with June and the newborn Rachel, she presumed that Lee Oswald had gone in to get something, perhaps an item of winter clothing stored in the garage.

But today, she said, she has been haunted for nearly 50 years by the certainty that Oswald went into her garage to remove the rifle she didn't know was there. The next morning, Friday, Nov. 22, Paine awoke to find no sign of him but for a used, plastic coffee cup in the kitchen sink.

At 12:30 p.m., gunshots struck and mortally wounded President Kennedy as his motorcade passed near the Dallas School Book Depository. At 1:22 p.m., police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald.

Quickly, police swarmed Ruth Paine's home. Investigators took Marina and her children to Dallas, essentially severing the friendship with Paine. Two days later, Lee Oswald was dead from a pistol shot fired at close range by Jack Ruby.

Over the next several days, Paine delivered baby clothes and other items to Marina through the police. On Nov. 30, Paine asked officers to return to Marina one of her books, a Russian-language text for homemakers, "Book of Useful Advice."

Inside the book, officers discovered the note that Marina Oswald found the night a shot was fired at ex-Gen. Walker.

As painful as the entire ordeal was, Paine said she is grateful that she had a role in disclosing that note, as it establishes that Lee Oswald had attempted an assassination just seven months before the murder of JFK.

In March 1964 and again that July, Paine appeared as a key witness before the Warren Commission, charged by President Lyndon Johnson with investigating the assassination of Kennedy. Paine's account, supplemented by Marina Oswald's testimony on the attempted shooting of Walker and other evidence, contributed to the commission's conclusion that Oswald tried to kill the ex-general. That act, in turn, supported the commission's finding that Oswald also murdered the President.

Others intrigued by the assassination, though certainly not all, agreed.

"The failure to hit Walker, very close failure though it was, is the Rosetta Stone of the Kennedy assassination. It showed that Lee really wanted to kill someone," declared Priscilla Johnson McMillan, who wrote the authoritative biography of the Oswalds, "Marina and Lee."

For Ruth Paine, who left Irving in 1966 and Texas six years later, the past five decades have not changed the conclusion forged by her uniquely personal perspective of the assassination.

"I feel from all I saw and experienced that Oswald did it and he acted alone," she said. "A lot of the world doesn't believe that."

After leaving Texas, Paine lived in Pennsylvania and then Florida. She worked as a teacher before training as a school psychologist, focusing on "trying to find out if you can tell someone is dangerous, ahead of time."

She retired to Santa Rosa in 2006 because she was drawn to the Friends House retirement community in Rincon Valley. Also, her son, Chris Panym, lives near Sebastopol, where he co-founded the Green Valley Village collective.

Back in Texas, the city of Irving is grateful for her help with its newest historical attraction: the Paine House Museum. The city purchased the house at 2515 West Fifth St. and has restored it to the way it looked in 1963. The city hopes to open the museum in early November.

Will Ruth Paine return again to Texas and to the house that Lee Harvey Oswald slipped out of one morning almost 50 years to do something that still has Americans torn over what happened, and why, and whether he acted alone?

"I haven't made any plans," Paine said.

But as strange as it would be to tour the home that's becoming a museum, Paine said she likely will do so because Irving intends for it to exhibit factual and authenticated history.

And especially when the matter at hand is the JFK-Oswald story, that's a good thing.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 521-5211 or

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