Paul Gregory watched in horror as reports of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination aired on November 22, 1963.
Gregory, raised in Fort Worth, then a student at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, was in the student union as the tragedy unfolded on TV.
That’s where he clearly saw the man accused of shooting Kennedy as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.
“I know that man,” Gregory recalled at the time. But no one who understood the literal meaning of his words. Gregory had spent much of the summer of 1962 in Fort Worth with Lee Harvey Oswald, his wife Marina, and their baby, June.
“I recognized Lee Oswald immediately, and it was like a light went out in my brain,” said Gregory, now 82 and a researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford in a recent interview. “Within an hour, an hour or so, it all sorted itself out for me. It made sense that he might have killed the president.”
Gregory, an expert on Soviet economics, was much better informed than the others. He was as close friends as Oswald and his wife, Marina of Russian descent, during their stay in Fort Worth.
Kennedy, accompanied by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, had begun his morning Nov. 22 by speaking in downtown Fort Worth, surrounded by a throng of supporters, before heading to Dallas for a 10-mile motorcade that was to end with a lunch where he was programmed to speak.
Oswald shot the President shortly after noon and was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm at Parkland Hospital.
Less than 24 hours later, Secret Service flew Gregory to Dallas for questioning. They would later question his father and mother. His father, born in the Soviet Union, helped translate for Marina Oswald at the Dallas Police Station because she spoke very little English.
If you haven’t heard of Gregory and his story, there’s a reason.
Outside of a few close friends and federal investigators, Gregory hadn’t shared what he knew until the November 2022 publication of “The Oswalds: An Untold Account of Marina and Lee” from Diversion Books.
Although he and his family were named and interviewed by the Warren Commission, the official investigation into the JFK assassination, Gregory and his family rarely spoke about their association with the Oswalds in subsequent years. Gregory’s father Peter was a Russian émigré who worked for an oil company. They were a very conservative, Republican-voting family, Gregory said.
“We were part of the River Crest Country Club, which was actually founded on oil fortunes,” he said of the city’s oldest golf course west of Fort Worth. “Just the idea that the Gregorys were hopping around with this weird guy who defected to the Soviet Union, a failed Marine, well, we really felt a sense of shame that we associated with this guy. That was the dominant factor.”
As Gregory continued his career which saw him receive a PhD. from Harvard in 1969, author of a standard textbook on Russian economics and writing about Russian affairs for Forbes, The Hill and other media, rarely discussed or confided in friends of the time about him with one of the most notorious assassins of the 20th century .
“The idea of writing the book before my mother and father died? It just wasn’t going to happen,” she said.
Explaining Oswald’s motive and killer instinct
And, of course, there were plenty of conspiracy theorists who wanted to link the local Russian émigré community to the assassination. Gregory simply didn’t want to engage or get involved in those discussions, he said.
In his foreword, Gregory explains why he is writing the book: “[The book] asks if our “intimate” portrait of Oswald conveys in him the motive, resources, cunning and killer instinct to have truly changed our history as he fired on the president’s motorcade passing below him.
Gregory strongly believes that Oswald had those motives, resources and instincts.
“I knew it then, shortly after the assassination, and I know it now,” he said.
As an academic, Gregory also knows that his book sheds rare light on Oswald’s life.
Gregory relates how his father, a successful petroleum engineer originally from Siberia, met Oswald. Oswald was trying to find work using his knowledge of the Russian language and asked Gregory’s father for advice.
Oswald, 22 at the time, was a former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, then returned to the United States in June 1962 with his Russian wife and young child, settling in Fort Worth, where Oswald had grown up.
“It was 1962, the height of the Cold War, you’ve never heard of Russian,” Gregory said. “People were staring at us.”
Since the Oswalds didn’t own a car, Gregory often drove them around town, visiting landmarks like Leonard Bros. department store, a fixture of downtown Fort Worth at the time. There Marina Oswald stared at the untenable array of clothes.
“Sometimes we would sneak away from Lee so Marina could look at the women’s dresses, even though they couldn’t afford to buy anything,” Gregory said.
Oswald did not get a job as a Russian translator and yet did not allow his wife to learn English so that she could find employment. However, he allowed her to teach Gregory Russian, which is how the three became friends. Gregory, who lived with his parents in the Monticello Park neighborhood, visited the Oswalds in their small, shabby duplex near the Montgomery Ward store on West 7th Street.
While the apartment was sparsely furnished, with no television or radio, there was one item Gregory remembers vividly: a copy of a Time magazine with President Kennedy on the cover as Man of the Year.
“It was only later that I learned that Lee had asked his brother, Robert, to send him Time magazine while he was in Minsk, Gregory said. “So, of all the things he could have brought back, that magazine went back to Fort Worth with them.”
Gregory said he was surprised at how much Marina Oswald knew about the American president.
“He knew a lot and thought Jackie Kennedy was very charming,” she said.
Oswald had delusions of grandeur, book he wanted to write
Oswald had a blue-collar job as a laborer at the Leslie Welding Co., but he believed publishers would pay him handsomely for his recollections of his life in Russia. Meanwhile, they lived a day-to-day existence, and Marina often took her baby to nearby Montgomery Ward, a short walk from their home.
“Even though she couldn’t afford to buy anything, she liked to look at, the abundance really, compared to what was available, or not available, in the Soviet Union,” she said.
Studying Russian with Marina every two weeks, Gregory often volunteered to take the couple grocery shopping because they didn’t own a car or a pram.
“For me it was very interesting to go and talk to them, practice a little Russian, learn a little about their life in the Soviet Union,” he said.
Gregory describes Oswald as quiet, brooding, with delusions of grandeur.
“He really thought the publishers were going to have a bidding war on his book and it just wasn’t going to happen,” Gregory said.
Since Gregory had graduated from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth and Oswald said he had as well, they visited the school one day. But Oswald didn’t know the campus, Gregory said.
“It later turned out that he had barely attended school, but that was pretty typical of Lee,” Gregory said.
Oswald became evasive and even angry when asked about his peripatetic life, especially when asked why he defected to the Soviet Union.
“We had invited some friends from Dallas, some of whom were Russians, over for dinner and invited the Oswalds,” Gregory said. “They started asking him questions about why he defected to the Soviet Union and almost lost it.”
Gregory also noticed occasional bruising on Marina and suspected it was at Oswald’s hand, but he didn’t pry.
While those incidents raised some red flags, Gregory also writes about one of the few times he’s seen the Oswalds have a good time.
During a visit to the Fort Worth Botanical Garden as they gazed upon all the beauty of the area, Gregory describes seeing them in a rare moment of happiness.
The Oswalds moved to Dallas later that year, and Gregory never saw them in person again, although his father served as Marina’s translator during her interrogation at the Six Flags Inn in Arlington and was her confidant for the first four days after the murder.
Gregory ignores conspiracy theories
Along with his personal history of his time with the Oswalds, Gregory also writes about the many official documents about Oswald that have been released in recent years.
Gregory also said that many of the books about Oswald and the assassination were written in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, a lot of information has been released, including portions of Oswald’s KGB file, CIA information on Oswald, and FBI wiretaps, much of which Gregory has read.
“We haven’t seen everything, but there’s a lot of new information out there and a lot of it is in the book,” he said.
Gregory wrote to Oswald’s widow, now Marina Oswald Porter, and sent her a copy of the book before it was published, but received only a note from her husband saying he did not want to discuss that part of their life.
“I get it,” Gregory said. “They just don’t want to be dragged into this awful part of their lives again.”
As for the many and varied assassination conspiracy theories, Gregory discounts them. She sees that Oswald has the motive, the intelligence and the means to carry out the assassination himself.
“Lee Harvey Oswald would be the last person I would be involved in a conspiracy,” he said.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at [email protected]. At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial backers. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.