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Fort Worth and the assassin: Man who befriended the Oswalds tells his story

Paul Gregory watched in horror as reports of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy were broadcast on Nov. 22, 1963. 

The Fort Worth-raised Gregory, then a student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, was at the student union as the tragedy unfolded on TV.

That’s where he got a clear look at the man accused of shooting Kennedy as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.

“I know that man,” Gregory recalls saying at the time. But no one he was with 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 child, June. 

“I immediately recognized Lee Oswald, and it was as if a light went off in my brain,” said Gregory, now 82 and a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution in a recent interview. “Within the hour, an hour or so, it kind of came together for me. It made sense that he could have killed the president.” 

Gregory, an expert in Soviet economics, was much better informed than most. He was as close to a friend as Oswald and his wife, Russian-born Marina, had during their time in Fort Worth. 

Kennedy, accompanied by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, had started his morning on Nov. 22 speaking in downtown Fort Worth, surrounded by a mass of supporters, before heading to Dallas for a 10-mile motorcade that was to end with a luncheon where he was scheduled to speak.

Oswald shot the president shortly after noon, and he was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. at Parkland Hospital.

Less than 24 hours later, the Secret Service took Gregory to Dallas for questioning. They would later question his father and mother. His father, who was born in the Soviet Union, helped translate for Marina Oswald at the Dallas Police Station because she spoke little English.  

If you haven’t heard of Gregory and his story, there’s a reason. 

The Oswalds, a book by Paul R. Gregory, published by Diversion Books.

Outside of a few close friends and federal investigators, Gregory had not shared what he knew until the November 2022 publication  of “The Oswalds: An Untold Account of Marina and Lee” from Diversion Books.

Even though he and his family were named and interviewed by the Warren Commission, the official investigation into JFK’s assassination, Gregory and his family rarely spoke about their association with the Oswalds in the years since. Gregory’s father, Peter, was a Russian emigre who worked for an oil company. They were a very conservative, Republican-voting family, Gregory said. 

“We belonged to River Crest Country Club, which really was founded on oil fortunes,” he said of the city’s oldest golf course in west Fort Worth. “Just the idea that the Gregorys were cavorting around with this strange guy who had deserted to the Soviet Union, a failed Marine, well, we really felt a sense of shame that we’d associated with this guy. That was the dominant factor.”

As Gregory continued with his career that saw him receive a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1969, author a standard textbook on the Russian economy and write about Russian affairs for Forbes, The Hill, and other media outlets, he rarely discussed or confided to friends about his time with one of the most infamous killers of the 20th century. 

“The idea of writing the book prior to the deaths of my mother and father? It just wasn’t going to happen,” he said. 

Explaining Oswald’s motive and killer instinct

And, of course, there were plenty of conspiracy theorists who wanted to tie the local Russian emigre community to the assassination. Gregory simply didn’t want to deal with or be involved in those discussions, he said.

Paul Gregory (Courtesy: Diversion Books)

In his foreword, Gregory lays out why he is writing the book: “[The book] asks whether our ‘intimate’ portrait of Oswald conveys in him the motive, resources, cunning, and killer instinct to have indeed changed our history as he fired on the president’s motorcade passing below him.”

Gregory believes resolutely that Oswald did have 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 shines a rare light on Oswald’s life. 

Gregory recounts how his father, a successful petroleum engineer originally from Siberia, had met Oswald. Oswald was trying to find work using his Russian language skills and sought advice from Gregory’s father.  

Oswald, 22 at the time, was a former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union in 1959, then returned in June 1962 to the U.S. with his Russian wife and a baby, settling in Fort Worth, where Oswald had grown up. 

“This was 1962, the height of the Cold War, you never heard Russian spoken,” Gregory said. “People stared at us.” 

Since the Oswalds didn’t own a car, Gregory often drove them around the city, visiting landmarks such as Leonard Bros. Department store, a fixture of downtown Fort Worth at the time. There Marina Oswald would stare at the unaffordable array of clothing. 

“We would sometimes sneak away from Lee so Marina could gaze at the women’s clothing, though they couldn’t afford to buy anything,” Gregory said. 

Oswald didn’t get a job as a Russian translator and yet he wouldn’t allow his wife to learn English so that she might find employment. However, he permitted her to teach Russian to Gregory, which is how the three became friends. Gregory, who lived with his parents in the Monticello Park neighborhood, would visit the Oswalds at their small, threadbare 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 vividly remembers: a copy of a Time magazine with President Kennedy on the cover as Man of the Year. 

“I didn’t learn until later that Lee had asked his brother, Robert, to send Time magazine to him while he was in Minsk, Gregory said. “So out of all the things he could have brought back, that magazine made it back to Fort Worth with them.” 

Gregory said he was surprised how much Marina Oswald knew about the American president. 

“She knew a lot and she thought Jackie Kennedy was very glamorous,” he said. 

Oswald had delusions of grandeur, book he wanted to write

Oswald had a blue-collar job as a manual laborer at Leslie Welding Co., but believed  publishers would pay him handsomely for his memories of his life in Russia. Meanwhile, they lived a hand-to-mouth existence and Marina would often take her baby to the nearby Montgomery Ward within walking distance of their home. 

“Even though she couldn’t afford to buy anything, she liked to look at, really the abundance, compared to what was available, or not available, in the Soviet Union,” he said.

Studying Russian with Marina biweekly, Gregory often volunteered to take the couple grocery shopping because they did not own a car or a baby carriage. 

“For me, it was very interesting to go over and talk with them, practice some Russian, learn a little bit about their lives in the Soviet Union,” he said. 

Gregory describes Oswald as quiet, brooding, with delusions of grandeur. 

“He really thought publishers would have a bidding war over his book and it just wasn’t going to happen,” Gregory said. 

Because Gregory had graduated from Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth and Oswald intimated that he had, too, they visited the school one day. But Oswald was unfamiliar with the campus, Gregory said. 

“It later turned out that he had barely attended the school, but that was pretty typical of Lee,” Gregory said. 

Oswald became evasive and even angry when questioned about his peripatetic life, especially when he was asked why he had defected to the Soviet Union.

“We had invited some friends from Dallas, some of whom were Russians, for a dinner party and invited the Oswalds,” Gregory said. “They began asking him questions about why he had defected to the Soviet Union and he very nearly lost it.” 

Gregory also noticed occasional bruises on Marina and suspected it was at the hand of Oswald, but he didn’t pry. 

While those incidents raised a few red flags, Gregory also writes of one of the few times when he saw the Oswalds enjoying themselves.  

During a trip to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden as they gazed over 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 again in person, though his father served as Marina’s translator during her interrogation at the Six Flags Inn in Arlington and was her confidante in the first four days after the assassination.

Gregory takes no stock in conspiracy theories

Along with his personal story 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 many of the books on Oswald and the assassination were written in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Since then, a lot of information has been released, including parts of Oswald’s KGB file, CIA intelligence on Oswald, and FBI wiretaps, much of which Gregory has read. 

“We haven’t seen it all, but there’s a lot of new information out there and a lot of that 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 she didn’t want to discuss that part of their lives. 

“I understood,” said Gregory. “They simply don’t want to be drawn back into this terrible part of their lives.”

As to the many and varied conspiracy theories about the assassination, Gregory doesn’t put any stock in them. He sees Oswald as having the motive, intelligence and the means to carry out the assassination on his own. 

“Lee Harvey Oswald would be the last person I would get involved in a conspiracy,” he said. 

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at  At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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