Paul Gregory is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Cullen Professor Emeritus in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston. He’s also the author of a new book, The Oswalds: An Untold Account of Marina and Lee, a fascinating account of the relationship he developed with Marina and Lee Oswald in the summer of 1963, when Gregory was 21 years old. Paul went off to college at the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 1963 and didn’t see Lee or Marina again. Then one fateful day in late November, Gregory was shocked to see a news report identifying Oswald as the lead suspect in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Gregory soon faced interrogations by the Secret Service. Later he would testify before the Warren Commission. In this interview, Gregory recalls these incidents and, as a scholar and skilled researcher, debunks the vast array of assassination conspiracy theories by demonstrating that Lee Harvey Oswald indeed killed Kennedy and acted alone—that the Oswald he once called a friend had the motive, the intelligence, and the means to commit one of the most shocking crimes in American history.
To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:
Peter Robinson: This coming November will mark the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. Today on "Uncommon Knowledge", a man who knew Lee Harvey Oswald. Paul Gregory on "Uncommon Knowledge," now. Welcome to "Uncommon Knowledge." I'm Peter Robinson. Now a fellow at the Hoover Institution here at Stanford, Paul Gregory holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate in economics from Harvard. Dr. Gregory is a leading figure in the study of the Soviet economy, and now the Russian economy, and his textbook on the Russian economy remained for many years in use in classrooms across the country. But what interests us today is not Dr. Gregory's academic career, but one summer in 1962. From Dr. Gregory's new book, "The Oswalds." "From June through mid-September of 1962, I was the sole companion of Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald outside of Lee's immediate family. I visited this young married couple often. I drove them around Fort Worth in my family's yellow Buick as we talked, shopped, and explored the city." Paul, welcome.
Paul Gregory: Pleased to be here.
Peter Robinson: How did it come to be that you drove Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife Marina around Fort Worth in your family's yellow Buick?
Paul Gregory: It so happened that when Lee returned to the United States in June of 1962 with Marina, he had in mind that he would get a high paying job.
Peter Robinson: You need to explain. He returned to the United States in 1962 from?
Paul Gregory: From Minsk, USSR, sort of a backwater provincial city.
Peter Robinson: He had defected from the United States to the Soviet Union in 1959.
Paul Gregory: Correct.
Peter Robinson: Lived there for three years, and returned in 1962 with his wife, a Russian, Marina.
Paul Gregory: He returned with Marina and an infant daughter, June. He had in mind that he would get a high paying job based upon his experience of three years behind the Iron Curtain and based upon his knowledge of Russian. My father, who is Russian, taught Russian at the public library and was known as someone who could attest to knowledge of Russian. So the Texas Employment Agency sent Lee to my father's office at Continental Life Building, and my father had no idea who this young fellow was, but picked a book off his shelf. Lee read it well.
Peter Robinson: In Russian.
Paul Gregory: In Russian. Lee read it well. They conversed in Russian, and his conversational Russian was quite good. My father wrote him a To Whom It May Concern. My father was, of course, curious. Who is this young fellow who's been three years behind the Iron Curtain? Invited him to lunch. Asked some not terribly probing questions. Didn't get much of an answer. And one thing to set the scene was that Lee had on a woolen suit of Soviet manufacturer, and he was sweating the whole time because it was over 100 degrees in Texas. But when they parted, Lee gave my father his phone number. Said, "Come and see us. You can meet my wife," and that's how it started.
Peter Robinson: And your dad was born in Siberia and came to this country in the early '20s.
Paul Gregory: Correct.
Peter Robinson: As a young man.
Paul Gregory: Correct.
Peter Robinson: But by the time he meets Lee Harvey Oswald, he's a middle-class American, a petroleum engineer as I recall.
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: All right. So what happened next? Your father meets this man. He speaks good Russian. He's intriguing. We need to get you into the picture.
Paul Gregory: Yeah, he speaks good Russian, but ungrammatical Russian.
Peter Robinson: Oh.
Paul Gregory: Which is a significant point because there were conspiracy theories based upon his being trained in some special language school.
Peter Robinson: I see, I see.
Paul Gregory: I came in because my father, when he returned from the office, said, "I met an interesting young guy. He lived in the Soviet Union," and, "Should we go visit?" So my father called. Lee said, "Come on over."
Peter Robinson: Did you speak Russian at home?
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Paul Gregory: Not as well as I should, but I did. We got in the car, go to Lee's brother's house, Robert. There we met Lee, and Lee introduces to Marina. So at that point I knew Lee, Marina, and June, the daughter.
Peter Robinson: Who was an infant?
Paul Gregory: Six months old.
Peter Robinson: Six months old. Now, you're 21 years old. Marina's 21 years old. Lee's a little older.
Paul Gregory: 24.
Peter Robinson: 24 years old. And you spent the summer together. So here's one piece... Why? You wanted to practice Russian, and Marina wanted to practice Russian, but you were already a college kid. You were good at playing tennis. You and I have been friends, Paul.
Paul Gregory: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: I should disclose that we've been friends for years. You love tennis. You must have been having fun.
Paul Gregory: Were I not having fun, I would not have done it. The idea was that I would go to their house regularly. I could talk to someone fresh out of the Soviet Union. And remember, this was the height of the Cold War, so someone direct from the Soviet Union was a rarity. So it was an opportunity for me to learn something about contemporary Russia, or the USSR, for that time. It was an opportunity to speak conversational Russian. And when we did speak, I don't think I exchanged one word of English with Lee. So Lee participated in this Russian language business.
Peter Robinson: So he wanted to keep up his Russian.
Paul Gregory: Very much so. In fact, that was a point of contention. And it actually resulted in an explosion from Lee in our house because we had guests who were Russian, from Dallas, and they were encouraging Marina to learn English because-
Peter Robinson: So this is somewhat later.
Paul Gregory: Later.
Peter Robinson: Later during the summer.
Paul Gregory: The August, mid-August, late August.
Peter Robinson: And your mother, as I recall, puts on a dinner party for the, what did you call them, the Fort Worth Russians?
Paul Gregory: No, the Dallas Russian.
Peter Robinson: The Dallas Russians. The community of Russians. All right, I'm sorry, but go ahead.
Paul Gregory: Yeah, no, but it did lead to an explosion where the guests from Dallas were saying, "Marina, you must learn some English." Marina, I think, knew maybe two words of English. And Lee exploded saying, "That will ruin my Russian if I have to speak English with my wife." And the reaction of the Dallas Russians, "What a pig."
Peter Robinson: Oh, I see. But it was real anger that you saw in him.
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: All right. So if I run into you, we're now, you meet them in June and you spend the summer together, speaking Russian with Lee Harvey Oswald and Marina. So let's say I run into you in July. You've been spending a few weeks with them. You know them pretty well at this point, and you and I are friends, and I say to my 21-year-old friend Paul, "What are they like? What are they like?"
Paul Gregory: That's the hardest question of all to answer because it was very hard to form an impression of Lee. He was kind of a neutral. He didn't say much. When he did say something, it was often to divert you. So an example being, did he have a high school degree? It was said, or somehow it came up in our conversations, that Lee went to Arlington Heights High, which would've been our mutual high school. And I kept probing a little bit. When did you graduate? How did you, maybe we-
Peter Robinson: You might have had friends in common.
Paul Gregory: Maybe we had friends in common, et cetera, et cetera. And he was a little bit older than, but he would shrug, and he would sort of give the impression that he wanted to give, namely that he was a high school graduate. So it wasn't until I actually took Lee and Marina in the yellow Buick to Arlington Heights High that I could see he really didn't know this place. And in reality, he'd spent about a month or a month and a half at Arlington Heights, and then he went on to join the Marines. So the question was, what were they like? Lee was very hard to read. Did he like you? Did he not like you? I had absolutely no idea. With Marina it was different. She and I really became friends. Supposedly she was teaching me Russian, but it turned out there was very little Russian language component to what we were doing. But at the very beginning, we-
Peter Robinson: But you did speak in Russian?
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: I see, but it is not as if you sat and had formal conversational session.
Paul Gregory: No, not learning, not language instruction, but we had agreed at the very beginning that I would pay Marina for her lessons. The last evening, which would've been mid-September, I bring in a check, and my father and I had talked about, "Well, what should we pay?" Who knows what we should pay? And the amount we decided on was $35, which for Marina was a fortune. But Marina seeing the check said, "Friends don't take money from friends."
Peter Robinson: Ah.
Paul Gregory: But we insisted, of course, and she took the money and went to Montgomery Ward's, which was down the street, and spent it all. For her, this was a huge amount of money.
Peter Robinson: And so forgive me if this is indelicate, but you and she had a real friendship. You weren't flirting with her because you were in the presence of her husband. He was there all the time.
Peter Robinson: No.
Paul Gregory: No. The first lesson, let's call it a lesson, I go expecting Lee and Marina. They lived on Mercedes Street near Montgomery Ward. It's a very poor part of town. Ring the doorbell. Marina answers, no Lee. I kept looking around, where's Lee? There was no Lee, and so we had a rather strained conversation. It was very difficult to understand her at the beginning.
Peter Robinson: I see.
Paul Gregory: So we had a very strained conversation. Lee then comes to the house, and everything was on foot or bus, so perhaps he got delayed by a bus schedule or something. Loaded with high powered books or intellectual books from the Fort Worth Public Library. But this was the only time that I and Marina were alone together. And in reading about Lee in Minsk, he would not let bachelors in the apartment either, whether he was there or not there. So he was a very jealous person. So I'm still trying to figure out, did he do it on purpose? Was it a bus schedule problem?
Peter Robinson: Or was he testing you in a sense?
Paul Gregory: Or, well, I kind of doubt that, but it was contrary to his character. And indeed we were the same age. I was a pretty good looking guy at that time. Marina was quite beautiful, as far as I could see. So that was a rare.
Peter Robinson: Singular .
Paul Gregory: A one time singular occurrence, yes.
Peter Robinson: Right, right. So he was neutral, but you enjoyed her company. That was a real friendship.
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: And you enjoyed showing her around because she was new to America.
Paul Gregory: Yeah.
Peter Robinson: All right. Here's the other piece of this that as I read about that summer comes right to the front of my mind. Your father is no fan of Soviet Russia. And you made this point yourself a moment ago. This is at the height of the Cold War. The Army-McCarthy hearings were less than a decade earlier. And yet, here you are spending a summer. You and Marina were the ones who were real friends, but you're in the presence except for that one moment when you were briefly alone with her.
Paul Gregory: 30 minutes, see.
Peter Robinson: 30 minutes. Aside from that, you're with Lee Harvey Oswald, and Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the Soviet Union. What did your family make of that? Did you and your father say, "Should I spend time with him?" Or how did you process that large fact about Lee and Marina Oswald?
Paul Gregory: Well, my father and I talked about this, and he took an immediate dislike to Lee, but we did sort of a cost-benefit analysis, and the attraction of being able to spend time with the newcomer from Russia really overwhelmed this reservation. The Dallas Russians, there were more of them than Fort Worth Russians, were a twitter because here's a young woman fresh out of the Soviet Union, grew up in Leningrad, and for them, that would've been Petersburg.
Peter Robinson: Yes. Yes.
Paul Gregory: So they were a twitter. "Let's go meet this young lady. She probably needs us to take care of her. She needs help. She needs furniture."
Peter Robinson: They wanted to welcome her.
Paul Gregory: They wanted to welcome her, but the reservation was this no good character she married. And so they were, it was kind of comical. They were telephoning my father. "Well, what is Paul seeing? What does he say about meeting this woman from Russia?" They called up a lawyer, Fort Worth lawyer, married to one of the Fort Worth Russians And to make sure that the CI, that the FBI is appropriately tracking Lee. The answer that eventually came back was it's okay to meet. We arranged this meeting at our house in late August, I would say.
Peter Robinson: I see, I see. So they were pro-Marina, but very wary of Lee, but precisely this, and you and your father talked over, the difficulty that he'd been a defector. All right, this is the summer of 1962. The last meeting took place when, in September?
Paul Gregory: Mid-September.
Peter Robinson: And how did you say goodbye? Off you went to Norman, Oklahoma to go back to the University of Oklahoma.
Paul Gregory: By that time, they had a new set of protectors, much to Lee's chagrin. Namely the Dallas Russians sort of took over the role that I was playing, taking them to buy groceries, taking them to Leonard's department store and so on. So I characterized this as Lee keeping Marina in a gilded cage, although it wasn't gilded. He wanted her not to have any contacts, and so particularly with those who might encourage her to learn English.
Peter Robinson: I see.
Paul Gregory: So the, the parting was quite simple. Goodbye. Let's stay in touch. Shortly thereafter, the Dallas Russians convince him to move to Dallas. "Let's keep in touch. Here's the $35 check." "I don't take money, we don't take money from friends in Russia." Then I left, and I did not hear from them again, largely because they'd moved to Dallas, until shortly before Thanksgiving of '62.
Peter Robinson: All right, let's go forward then, a year and a couple of months to November 22nd, 1963. You're an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. How did you hear that the president had been shot, and how did you learn that it was your friend Lee Harvey Oswald?
Paul Gregory: I had class that day at noon, it was in the library, and it was a Russian language course. Ken Studabaker, a colleague, came in, "President's been shot, no classes." I had for the Student Union, where I knew there was a large screen TV, which meant this big in those days. There were about 60 of us. We sat on the carpet, listened to Cronkite declare that JFK had died.
Video clip: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 PM Central Standard time, 2:00 Eastern Standard time, some 38 minutes ago.
Paul Gregory: Kept sitting there. They're bringing in a suspect. It's a commotion. And there I see someone being brought in, bruised, bruised in a white T-shirt, bloody, a black eye.
Clip of Lee Harvey Oswald: I didn't shoot anybody. No, sir.
Paul Gregory: I said, "That's Lee Oswald." I didn't even know his middle name. "That's Lee Oswald."
Peter Robinson: So you had two shocks in short order. First, that the president of the United States had been assassinated, and second, that just months before, you had been spending a summer with the assassin.
Paul Gregory: Correct.
Peter Robinson: I don't ordinarily like questions that are of the nature of, how did that make you feel? But in this case, it just seems, how did you feel at that moment, Paul?
Paul Gregory: I felt, I really need someone to talk to.
Peter Robinson: Mm.
Paul Gregory: It's a strange reaction. I need someone to share this with. My roommate, who was also my best friend, was out of town. I call my mother about four or five in the evening, and it was very short.
Peter Robinson: Had they realized at home?
Paul Gregory: Oh, yeah.
Peter Robinson:They had?
Paul Gregory: Yeah, I said, "It looks to me like it's Lee," and my mother only knew Lee from that dinner party. She basically said, "Yes, we know it as well." I said goodbye, and that was the conversation. And then eventually I ended up in our student apartment all by myself. So I had this huge secret that I wished to share but was unable to share.
Peter Robinson: Mm, from your book, Paul, "The Oswalds," "Remarkably, Lee's actions on November 22nd, 1963 did not surprise me. Rather, it was as if the pieces of a puzzle were falling into place," close quote. How is that so? You had no inkling during the summer that you spent with Lee and Marina that he might do anything like this, but it made sense once you learned he had done it.
Paul Gregory: Yeah, somehow, and it would be hard for me to explain, I picked up the fact that he had delusions of grandeur. I knew he was serious about his Marxism, and this-
Peter Robinson: How did that, how did that evidence itself?
Paul Gregory: I didn't know it at the time. I did know, he did sort of show me the types of material he was reading. It was only when I dug deeply into the Warren Commission report that I found some of his writings on Marxism. And these writings were not like a couple of paragraphs. They were maybe like 600, 800 words, say. And these writings indicated to me that he knew the buzzwords of Marxism, socialism, surplus value, et cetera.
Peter Robinson: But this is much later, after the Warren Commission?
Paul Gregory: This is after I was doing my own investigation.
Peter Robinson: Right, but at the time, the pieces seemed to, it seemed sensible to or plausible to you.
Paul Gregory: Correct. I knew that he had delusions of grandeur, namely he was going to publish with a major publisher his historic diary. They were going to have a nice-
Peter Robinson: He posted about this kind of thing.
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: I see.
Paul Gregory: And in fact, he was trying to get, say, at least my father's, opinion about the publishability of his work.
Peter Robinson: His Minsk diary.
Paul Gregory: On which he was going, on which he was going to live, and they were gonna live well. So I somehow picked up delusions of grandeur. I picked up the fact that he interestingly did not want, as a Marxist favoring a proletarian state, he could not stand to for anyone to think of him as a manual worker. So he would go to great lengths to conceal this, such as he-
Peter Robinson: He had a job as a welder, was the job
Paul Gregory: Welder.
Peter Robinson: he was able to find.
Paul Gregory: And he would, he dressed very neatly. Even though they were very poor, he dressed neatly. He dressed neatly in Fort Worth, and he dressed neatly back in Minsk as well. So he wanted to hide the fact that he was a manual worker. And he would go well-dressed, not in a suit, but he would go well-dressed to work. He'd probably change there. All of this going back to, how did I put all this together?
Peter Robinson: Right, and you'd seen flashes of temper.
Paul Gregory: Extreme flashes of temper. When Marina happened to fall backwards off of the stoop to their apartment, and he was yelling and screaming at her, where I was worried about her perhaps needing hospitalization. There was evidence of physical abuse, such as a black eye.
Peter Robinson: That you saw during the summer.
Paul Gregory: Yes, yes.
Peter Robinson: Marina had a black eye.
Paul Gregory: Yeah, I went to the apartment. She opened the door. There was the black eye. Lee was there as well. She gave me a look, don't ask. So somehow I put all these together, and I didn't go all the way down the list. There are probably more indicators, but somehow when I saw him, for about 10 minutes, I thought to myself, "Well, the FBI knew who this guy was. They had interviewed him, so he would be someone they would reach out for."
Peter Robinson: In fact, you just mentioned a moment ago that the Dallas Russians took pains to make sure that the FBI was aware of his presence in Fort Worth.
Paul Gregory: Yes, yes, yes. Somehow it all fell into place, and the formula whereby they fell into place, I can't give you, but they fell into place. I never doubted it after that.
Peter Robinson: Mm, so let's go through about 48 hours after the shooting here very quickly because this is the last 48 hours of his life. As you sum it up here in "The Oswalds," "After firing the shots, Lee Harvey Oswald left the building," the Texas School Book Repository, "fled on a city bus and then taxi. In a panic, he cut a suspicious figure. An alert policeman, officer J.D. Tippet, stopped Oswald." And as Tippet gets out of his cruiser to approach Oswald, Oswald fires five shots. Four of them hit Tippet, and he's killed, and Lee Harvey Oswald is apprehended. Soon afterward, he flees to a movie theater. He's apprehended, he still has the pistol with him with which he shot Officer Tippet. So he's taken into custody at this point. He's picked up for shooting Tippet, and soon thereafter, the police put it together that he was in the Texas Book Depository. The rifle is found there, all of that. And then on November 24th, police are taking Oswald from Dallas headquarters. They want to get him to the county jail, which is more secure, and Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, approaches, raises a pistol, shoots once, and kills Lee Harvey Oswald. He's declared dead at the Parkland Hospital, the same hospital where 48 hours earlier John Kennedy was declared dead. How did you learn of Lee Harvey Oswald's death, and what was your response to that?
Paul Gregory: I was one of the few who were watching live TV.
Peter Robinson: It happened on live TV, yes.
Paul Gregory: It happened on live TV, so.
Reporter Clip: Shot, Lee Oswald has been shot.
Paul Gregory: But to tell the truth, by that time, I felt as if I were watching some kind of theater piece that's taking place somewhere far away.
Peter Robinson: It begun to seem surreal to you?
Paul Gregory: it was surreal, yeah. And that I was somehow a part of this seemed surreal to me. So I didn't feel any particular emotion. This is someone I knew who had just been shot, et cetera. The one sort of technical question that interested me was the actual gunshot wound because it went into the stomach. I had looked at the repeats. I could see that he was shot in the stomach, and I felt surely Parkland could save someone from a stomach wound, so it came as a shock to hear that he had died. And by the way, at this time, my father, who translated for Marina in the aftermath of the assassination, he's the one who took the news to Marina in the office of the sheriff of Irving, Texas.
Peter Robinson: All right, so now, the president is dead. Lee Harvey Oswald is dead. When did the FBI come for you?
Paul Gregory: The FBA never came. It was the Secret Service.
Peter Robinson: I'm sorry, Secret Service.
Paul Gregory: No, it's a natural question. In fact, it's an interesting question because the Secret Service was convinced that the local FBI had botched the matter because they knew there was a Lee Harvey Oswald.
Peter Robinson: They knew about him, yes.
Paul Gregory: They knew about him. He had actually come in a week or so earlier, threatening them. So the Secret Service was quite irate at the failures of the FBI. So it was the Secret Service that I had dealings with, and it was the Secret Service that my father had dealings with. But the question was-
Peter Robinson: Well, when did the Secret Service then come find you?
Paul Gregory: 9:00 AM the next morning.
Peter Robinson: November 23rd.
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: The day before Lee is shot.
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: All right. So in the book you talk about you're interviewed by Secret Service, then you're interviewed by a representative of the Warren Commission. These interviews go on for some time. So you're interviewed. They come to you the next morning. Marina Oswald is sequestered in a hotel, the Six Flags Hotel.
Paul Gregory: Not yet.
Peter Robinson: Not yet. Well, so get us there. What I wanna get to is your dad, what's fascinating was for five days, she's questioned over and over and over again, and your father translates. You call that episode, that period of her questioning, I think you used the phrase, the word catastrophe. Why was that?
Peter Robinson: Where we're going here, Paul, now, now it's happened. Now, of course, we're approaching what people think of it, then and now. And so the question, the immediate question is the competence with which in the immediate aftermath of the death of a president of the United States officials behave?
Paul Gregory: Well, from our perspective, the FBI behaved very poorly. I'm sure they would say something different, but you have to consider the context, which was the president has been killed by a lone, perhaps by a lone gun.
Peter Robinson: But they didn't know that for sure, right?
Paul Gregory: We can get to it, but I immediately ruled out in my own testimony the notion of a conspiracy. But you have to remember that in the immediate aftermath, we didn't know. Was this retribution for the Cuban Missile Crisis? Was it something else? And we now know what was going on in Moscow at the time.
Peter Robinson: And your book is good, not only on your personal account but on matters such as what was going on in Moscow. They were terrified that they'd be blamed and that this might lead to some kind of confrontation with the United States for which they were felt totally unprepared.
Paul Gregory: Correct. Correct.
Peter Robinson: All right. All right, but back to your dad and you, and your experience.
Paul Gregory: Yeah, no, no, but remember that they had no idea. Is this an organized conspiracy? Perhaps other important members of government are being targeted. Marina was not read her Miranda Rights. They kept her sequestered largely to have access to her, to answer the key question, which in their mind was, who took the photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald in black, holding the rifle, with the Tippit pistol at his side? And she was very reluctant to admit that.
Peter Robinson: That she had taken the photo?
Paul Gregory: That she had taken the photo.
Peter Robinson: There was no conspirator who had taken the photo.
Paul Gregory: And that was a major piece of evidence that there was no conspiracy. In fact, she finally, at my fathers prodding, said, "Yes, yes, I took the picture. And when I took the picture, I laughed at Lee for such a silly thing."
Peter Robinson: I see.
Paul Gregory: And that scorn of Marina, I think, was a significant factor explaining his own actions, so Lee's actions.
Peter Robinson: All right, so we have, I'm going to hold this up to the camera again because the whole book is fascinating, and we just don't have time to proceed at the pace of a book, but there are investigations and investigations and investigations, and first the Secret Service questions. You and your father translates from Marina. Then the Warren Commission is established. All of this goes on for months. When did it feel over?
Paul Gregory: Never. It was something that, a natural question is, why did you wait 60 years?
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Paul Gregory: And the answer is, we felt a deep sense of shame that we had.
Peter Robinson: Why did you wait 60 years to write this book?
Paul Gregory: Yeah, why did I wait 60 years to write the book? Our family felt a deep sense of shame and also a sense of danger because of all the conspiracy theories that were being spun. My father was in the oil business. We belonged to River Crest Country Club where the high rollers from the oil patch hung out. We knew that this guy had deserted, we knew this guy had defected to Soviet Union, had thrown his passport on the desk of the counselor official. So this is something we didn't want anyone else to know about, and, in fact, I think you and I who were among the early ones to whom I said I knew this guy.
Peter Robinson: I know, but you and I had been friends for years before you even mentioned it. You took me totally by surprise some years ago when you mentioned this.
Paul Gregory: So even now, I feel that I've lost some privacy in writing this, in writing this book, but there was also a practical reason for not wanting this information out. We probably realized very early there were gonna be conspiracy theories, and there are conspiracy theories that involve me, that involve my father, that involve my father as a representative of the oil industry, as a representative of JFK. And although we seem to escape the worst of the conspiracy theories, this was a consideration.
Peter Robinson: Mm, and you write that one, that's the reason for waiting and the reason for writing the book is that friends of yours and at this stage of your career-
Paul Gregory: Including you.
Peter Robinson: At this stage of your career, your principal, you started life as an economist. At this stage of your career, you oversee the investigation of the archives, Russian, Soviet archives at the Hoover Institution. You're fundamentally a historian, and you suggest that friends of historians in your circle said, "Paul, you have something to add to the record." Is this correct?
Paul Gregory: Correct.
Peter Robinson: All right. So let's go to the... In my judgment, there are two very large questions that reverberate to this day, six decades later, and one is whether there was indeed a conspiracy. "The Oswalds," you write this yourself. "Decades later, only a third of Americans believe the Warren Commission's conclusion that 'one man killed JFK.' Remarkably in this age of extreme partisanship, there is agreement across age, gender, race, education, and party affiliation that our 35th president was gunned down by a conspiracy." And yet when the Secret Service asked you if you thought there might be a conspiracy, you replied.
Paul Gregory: No. I think I have some pretty good reasons for saying no. One is we tend to grossly underestimate Lee Harvey Oswald. He was dyslexic. He could not write. He could not spell. He could not graduate from high school.
Peter Robinson: He made a mess of the Marine core.
Paul Gregory: He made a mess of the Marines, et cetera, et cetera. I saw a different Oswald. This is an Oswald who was able to stay in the Soviet Union even though the Politburo wanted to kick him out. It was someone who was able to convince the Moscow consulate to give him back his passport and even lend him the money to return home. He was able to go to travel rather freely, New Orleans, Mexico City, on $1.25 an hour. So if you-
Peter Robinson: And also the linguistic ability.
Paul Gregory: And the linguistic ability.
Peter Robinson: There's people who live in foreign countries for their entire life and never pick up the language. In three years, he's become conversational in Russian, as your father attested.
Paul Gregory: Correct. Correct. So if you look at all these characteristics plus motive, which I think is evident, history books, wife scorn, I'm going to show my show Marina that I am something, I am somebody. So if you add all these things together, he was the perfect, what I call, low-tech assassin. It cost him about two or $300 to get all the equipment, a bus ticket to escape with, et cetera, et cetera. So I think a lot of the skepticism about the Warren Report, which says he did it and he did it alone, rests upon the fact that he didn't seem to have the tools. In my view, he had all the tools. The most important was the motive and his persistency. It's quite often forgotten that he did attempt to assassinate General Walker, a major political figure.
Peter Robinson: I'll come to that in a moment, yes.
Paul Gregory: He did, and he planned meticulously the murder of Walker. So this was not a.
Peter Robinson: So you also said, as I recall, you said to the Secret Service, "if I were organizing a conspiracy." Fill us in to that.
Paul Gregory: This was in the car the day after the assassination on the way from Norman, Oklahoma to Oklahoma City. I said, "If I were to organize an assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald would've been the last one I would've recruited. He's not a leader, and he's not a follower. If he were a leader, who in the world would he find foolish enough to follow him?" And he definitely was not a follower. He marched to his own drummer his entire life. So when I had all these things together, I had no trouble.
Peter Robinson: All right, Paul, how do you answer? Let's take a look at a very brief excerpt from the film "JFK."
Paul Gregory: Only a month before in Dallas, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had been spit on and hit. There'd already been several attempts on de Gaulle's life in France. You would've felt an army presence in the streets that day. None of this happened. It was a violation of the most basic protection codes we have, and it is the best indication of a massive plot in Dallas.
Peter Robinson: All right, so there you have Oliver Stone, the producer of "JFK." There had been attempts on de Gaulle's life. There was a man opening an umbrella. The Secret Service presence was much too small. They left all these windows unchecked, and the president was in a limousine without a bulletproof bubble over him. And so how do you reply to all of this?
Paul Gregory: By not replying?
Peter Robinson: I see.
Paul Gregory: If I allowed myself to get into that sinkhole-
Peter Robinson: I see.
Paul Gregory: I would still be in that sinkhole. My goal was to write about things that I knew and had witnessed or my father had witnessed. So one of the most interesting conversations I had was with the chief of the Secret Service on the day of the assassination, Mike Howard, who is alive at 92.
Peter Robinson: Mm.
Paul Gregory: And everything that we just saw on those clips, he would have a good refutation for. But if you look at my book and reviews, if you're a conspiracy theory, you hate this book. If you believe Oswald did it and did it alone, then you're very happy with this book.
Peter Robinson: So another couple of questions on this question of conspiracy, that the limousine did slow down to make that sharp turn as it goes through Dealey Plaza. And I have to say, what came to my mind was the assassination some decades earlier of Archduke Franz Joseph in Sarajevo.
Paul Gregory: In a carriage.
Peter Robinson: Because his chauffeur got confused and took a wrong turn, and had to back out of an alley, and the car stalled as he was backing. In other words, there is this element of sheer chance contingency, human incompetence that enters into history, and you would account Lee Harvey Oswald the disturbed Marxist who's been trained in the Marines how to handle a rifle, reads in the newspaper that the president's gonna be passing underneath his window, and that's what happened.
Paul Gregory: Correct.
Peter Robinson: All right. So I just wanna frame it up one more time. After six decades of living with your knowledge of the assassin, you have not the slightest doubt that he acted alone?
Paul Gregory: You are correct.
Peter Robinson: All right. So here's the second sort of big aspect or question about the assassination that seems to me to still live with us, and to put it crudely, it's whether Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger or America pulled the trigger. Jim Piereson, James Piereson, the author of "Camelot and the Cultural Revolution." Now this is a long quotation, but you'll understand the importance of. You'll understand why I'm using it. James Piereson writes, "Immediately after the assassination, leading journalist and political figures insisted that the president was a victim of a climate of hate in Dallas and across the nation. James Reston of the 'New York Times' publishes a front-page column the day after the assassination under the title 'Kennedy a Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation.'" Syndicated newspaper columnist Drew Pearson wrote that JFK was a victim of a hate drive. Senator Mike Mansfield, the great figure of the Senate in those days, attributed the assassination to, quote, "bigotry, hatred, and prejudice," close quote. So the argument here is that Dallas is a very conservative town and that John Kennedy is in some way or another killed by conservative extremists or bigots or by America itself that creates this atmosphere of hatred that affects Lee Harvey Oswald. Do you buy that?
Paul Gregory: No, not at all. I think if you look at the moment JFK was shot and killed, he was near the end of the motorcade route on his way onto the freeway where he would've been going at a considerable speed.
Peter Robinson: Safe, essentially.
Paul Gregory: He'd be safe. At that point, the Dallas community said, breathed the sigh of relief, saying he's gotten a very enthusiastic reception, almost a frenzied crowd. My father, by the way, saw him at the Texas Hotel in Fort Worth two or three hours earlier, giving an address. So as far as Dallas was concerned, they've passed the test. We're not a hateful community. We welcomed the president with an enormous enthusiasm. The problem for this hate argument, and there were apparently some ads placed in newspapers that were-
Peter Robinson: Anti-Kennedy ads. Yes, yes.
Paul Gregory: Yes, anti-Kennedy.
Peter Robinson: And the Dealey's, the newspaper, was a conservative, one of the newspapers in town was a very conservative.
Paul Gregory: Well, then the problem is he's shot by a Marxist commie. That's the problem.
Peter Robinson: So can we take, hold that train. So police learned, you mentioned Edwin Walker a moment ago. After Oswald shoots the president, police learned that earlier the same year he had attempted to shoot, and this is an important episode that tends to get blotted out by these, of course, but still, earlier, months earlier, he attempts to shoot General Edwin Walker.
Paul Gregory: Well, the police from the city came in to investigate a rifle shot that was fired into the house.
Peter Robinson: Oswald missed, but he got off a shot from the same rifle he used to kill the president. Who is General Walker? Well, he is a right-winger. He is the president or head of the local John Birch Society, which was a right-wing group.
Paul Gregory: Correct.
Peter Robinson: And then after taking off this pop at General Walker, Oswald leaves Texas for New Orleans, where a television station films him distributing leaflets in favor of Fidel Castro, and then before returning to Texas, Oswald visits Mexico City, where he tries to get a visa to go to Cuba, Fidel Castro's, Cuba. Okay, so, to what extent is Lee Harvey Oswald a Marxist and a communist, and to what extent is he just simply a very disturbed man who kind of latched onto that for I don't know what, for some sense of meaning in his life?
Paul Gregory: When I was together regularly with Lee, I kind of thought it was a pose. I'm an ordinary person, but I'm extraordinary in that I a 15 year old began reading Marx. Anyone who can read Marx at 15 is, that's a rather strange, strange thing. So I actually view this Cuba business and the New Orleans episode quite differently in that if you look at his writings, and that's rather difficult with his spelling and stuff, he was really building, here's the way I'd put it. He tried the Soviet Union. It was the worker's paradise. It wasn't. "I'm gonna go to the United States. I'm going to be a celebrity there because I speak Russian. I've written a historic diary." That didn't work. The marriage was falling apart. So where is the grass greener? He's running out of greenery, and the grass is greener in Cuba. In Cuba, "I need to make it so that they will welcome me with open arms in Cuba." That was his goal in New Orleans, where he was recruiting for-
Peter Robinson: He wanted to be a hero someplace.
Paul Gregory: Well, he wanted to get a visa as well. And so when he shows up in Mexico City, he brought with him various letters from people who have congratulated him on his recruiting.
Peter Robinson: His recruiting as a communist.
Paul Gregory: As a pro-Castro person. Let's put it-
Peter Robinson: Right. So he tries to display his pro-Castro, communist-
Paul Gregory: And he took letters, and his one recruit, by the way, was AJ Hideel. if that rings a bell.
Peter Robinson: It doesn't, I'm sorry.
Paul Gregory: That's his pseudonym. That's Lee's moxie. He recruited himself as his only recruit.
Peter Robinson: Oh, I see.
Paul Gregory: So that's a little bit of humor if one can find anything humorous about this. So your question was, is it because he was a communist? Yes, he did spend time trying to learn Marx's thought. He took it seriously, I believe, but this business about Cuba, I think, was purely, let's go to where the grass is greener.
Peter Robinson: All right, so six decades later when polls show that Americans still doubt that he acted alone, this book displays a man who is perfectly capable in his disturbed way of acting alone, correct?
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: All right. And six decades later, when there is still somehow this notion, we played a clip from "JFK" about the conspiracy, but "JFK" also has a lot of references to the conservative or hateful atmosphere in Dallas, so that's still in that movie as well. This notion that somehow or other, John Kennedy was a martyr to some ugly right wing or bigoted streak in America, and this book says, "No, the man who killed him was, to the extent that he believed anything, a Marxist." Is that correct?
Paul Gregory: Yes.
Peter Robinson: All right, Paul, you conclude by mentioning, I'm going to quote this from "The Oswalds." "I sent Marina," and Marina who is still alive, remarried, and has lived out of the public eye. One can imagine that if you, yourself, having spent a summer with Lee Harvey Oswald have remained mostly quiet about that for the last six decades, she wants to stay, she's led a reclusive life. I think that's fair to say. "I sent Marina an early draft of this book, and I spoke with her husband who protects her from those who wish to exploit her. It was clear that he did not want me to speak with Marina. I respected his wishes. Instead, I decided to write Marina a letter, to which I have received no response."
Paul Gregory: Well, this is a full page, so the viewers have to be patient. I wrote, "Dear Marina, I talked to your husband, Ken. He said he would pass along my greetings. It has been more than 50 years since we saw each other. I went on to become a university professor." I thought she'd be interested what happened to me. "University professor specializing in Russia. I've taught for almost 50 years at the University of Houston and have served as a fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University for 15 years. My historian colleagues, including Peter, convinced me that I should write about my time together with you and Lee to help complete the historical record. I was one of the few who knew the two of you when you arrived, and we spent a considerable amount of time together, which I remember fondly," which is true. "After November 22nd, 1963, I pretty much kept quiet about what had happened, as did my whole family. My father passed in 1982, my mother in 1987. It was only then that I was even able to think about writing this. I hope that you have had a good life in America after such a tragic start. My regards."
Peter Robinson: Paul Gregory, author of "The Oswalds," thank you.
Paul Gregory: Thank you.
Peter Robinson: For "Uncommon Knowledge", the Hoover Institution, and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.