The Highly Unusual Funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald
The director of the Miller Funeral Home was a man named Paul Groody. He told the grave diggers that the piles of dirt they were moving were in service of a deceased man named William Bobo. Bobo, an old cowboy in the Fort Worth area, occupied one of the tables inside the funeral parlor, old age and sun-drenched living having caught up to him at the age of 75.
That’s right, Paul Groody told them. That hole is for Bobo.
When Groody called and arranged for flowers, he told the florist to put “Bobo” on the tag.
When Groody picked out a brown suit for the service, the reporters who were milling around the funeral home asked him who it was for. “Mr. Bobo,” Groody told them.
Groody was lying. The suit wasn’t for Bobo. Neither were the flowers, nor the grave, nor the eight policemen and two guard dogs stationed at the property, some of whom had accompanied Groody when he visited Parkland Memorial Hospital on November 24 to claim the most infamous corpse in the country.
All of these arrangements were in the service of burying Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of assassinating John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, who was himself murdered on November 24, and would be laid to rest on November 25. It would be a most unusual send-off.
Perched at the window of the Texas School Book Depository, alleged communist Oswald reportedly took aim at a motorcade traveling through Dallas, fired three shots, and pierced the skull of Kennedy. He was captured, jailed, then shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while in transit to another facility. At Parkland Memorial Hospital—the same site where Kennedy was rushed in an attempt to save his life—Oswald was pronounced dead 105 minutes after being shot.
Never had a dead body been such a source of consternation and concern among the Secret Service, the FBI, and local officials. Oswald had obviously been a target while he was still breathing; dead, the authorities were concerned that he might attract people looking to desecrate his corpse.
Quietly, law enforcement phoned Groody, who operated a funeral home in Fort Worth. He collected Oswald's body in the middle of the night on November 24 and made plans for a service the following day, when Oswald’s mother, widow, brother, and two children would be able to attend. But there were some problems.
Problem one was the issue of finding someone to lead the service. No one, not even clergy members, could seem to put aside their anger long enough to say even a few parting words about a man who sent the country into mourning. Two Lutheran ministers agreed, then backed out when Groody told them the service would be held outdoors. (Both feared sniper fire would disrupt the proceedings.)
When Oswald’s family showed up for the 4 p.m. service, Groody encountered another issue. Aside from law enforcement, no one other than Oswald's widow and mother had showed up for the funeral—there were no friends and no other family members to serve as pallbearers. So Groody turned to the one thing he did have in plentiful supply: members of the press. Acting on a tip, dozens of reporters had gathered on the grounds to photograph and witness the burial of Kennedy’s assassin.
Groody approached Preston McGraw, a local reporter with whom he had some previous dealings. McGraw agreed to help carry the casket. Michael Cochran, the Associated Press’s Fort Worth correspondent, saw McGraw assisting and felt compelled to join him (after initially refusing to help). Another reporter, Jack Moseley, hung on to the casket’s handle for a few steps before walking away; he couldn’t stand carrying Oswald, even if it was to his grave.
Eventually, at least seven reporters labored to move him. Then, with Oswald in the ground, the Reverend Louis Saunders—executive secretary of the local Council of Churches and the only man willing to lend the service a religious overture—uttered some spare words.
“Mrs. Oswald tells me that her son, Lee Harvey, was a good boy and that she loved him,” he said. “And today, Lord, we commit his spirit to your Divine care.”
That was all. Oswald’s casket was opened one last time so that the family could pay their last respects. It was then lowered into the grave.
It wouldn’t remain there.
The morbid fascination with Oswald so feared by authorities turned out to be warranted. On the fourth anniversary of Kennedy’s murder, in 1967, thieves stole Oswald's modest headstone in Rose Hill Cemetery. When it was recovered, Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, replaced it with a simple plaque and kept the original in her home.
When Marguerite died in 1981, she was buried in the plot next to her son. That same year, Oswald’s body was exhumed in order to satisfy conspiracy theories regarding whether he really occupied the grave or whether a body double had been used instead. After the curious parties were satisfied, Oswald was buried once more.
Because his pine bluff casket had been damaged by water, the Miller Funeral Home—now known as the Baumgardner Funeral Home—told Oswald’s brother, Robert, that they’d be putting him in a new coffin. Robert agreed, assuming the old one would be destroyed.
It wasn’t. Unbeknownst to Robert, the funeral home put the casket up for auction in 2010. In 2015, a judge ruled that the business owed Robert $87,468 in damages and needed to return the casket to the family.
No one ever appeared eager to let Lee Harvey Oswald rest in peace, save for the journalists who put him there. When Cochran stood deliberating whether to assist Groody in 1963, a reporter named Jerry Flemmons turned to him and said, “Cochran, if we're gonna write a story about the burial of Lee Harvey Oswald, we're gonna have to bury the son of a bitch ourselves."