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Newsmaker: Marina Porter

Forever fated to be Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald

British paparazzi descended on the quiet community of Rockland, Texas, recently and stalked an elderly woman who lives on a winding farm road full of ranch homes, barbed-wire fences, and chicken coops.

They followed her to a Walmart, where, unbeknownst to Marina Porter and her husband of 48 years, they photographed the two of them strolling to their car. The images popped up on the Internet and underscore dramatically why this looms as an autumn of discontent for Porter, born in the old Soviet Union 72 years ago.

On March 17, 1961, on a dance floor in Minsk, Marina Prusakova locked eyes with a thin, wavy-haired young American, an ex-Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union. They were married a month later. As a bride of 19, Marina, her husband and their newborn daughter immigrated in June 1962 to the United States, where she would soon become a woman of infamy: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald.

• • •

Her husband, the Warren Commission concluded, assassinated President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Two days later, Oswald was shot to death in the basement of the police station, leaving behind Marina, then 22, and the couple's tiny girls, June, not yet 2, and Rachel, barely a month old.

To this day, Marina remains a woman of mystery, in no small part for having first helped to convict her dead husband in the minds of most, then saying he was framed.

She told the Warren Commission that she believed her husband acted alone and expounded on that in chilling detail in sharing her life story with Priscilla Johnson McMillan, who wrote the 1977 book, Marina and Lee. "She didn't have any idea what he was going to do," McMillan said.

Those who know Marina say the term "survivor" best describes her.

"I think she's been a very good mother in raising those kids," said Hugh Aynesworth, author of the new book, November 22, 1963: Witness to History, who first met her in 1964. Her children got a break when she married Kenneth Porter in 1965. It allowed them to live their lives under a new identity. "But still, going through school, they had some difficulties," Aynesworth said.

Their mother tried to live a normal life, working for 20 years at an Army Navy Surplus Store just a few miles from where the president was killed.

Over the years, Marina began to speak about the possibility of a conspiracy. Aynesworth, who believes Oswald acted alone, credits money as the motive. There is, he said, no financial reward in believing Oswald acted alone, but conspiracy theorists "have a lot of money. I probably sent her thousands of dollars from foreign journalists who want to know where she is."

But Marina's storyline of her own role hasn't changed.

Gerald Posner, who wrote the definitive lone-gunman book on the assassination, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, sees even the pro-conspiracy Marina "as a woman of integrity, because it would have been easy for her to mix up the historical record by lying." For instance, she never recanted her testimony about knowing that it was Oswald who attempted to kill Gen. Edwin Walker in April 1963.

"She's in a position," Posner said, "where so many of her dealings with Lee were one-on-one. All she needs to do if she wants to be a mischief maker in history is recant one of those. (She has) never cashed in. She had a name that could have been utilized by someone with much lower standards in the desire to chase a dollar."

• • •

The Marina who has lived most of her life in North Texas is the mother of three children. Her son Mark, whose father is Kenneth Porter, lives in East Texas. June lives in Dallas-Fort Worth, Rachel in the Midwest.

Like their mother, the children have built a wall of secrecy that attempts to shield them from the onslaught of history but never quite does. Rachel, who bears a resemblance to her father, gave an interview to Texas Monthly in 1995. At the time, she was working as a waitress in Austin.

"I didn't know my family was any different until I was about 7," said Rachel. "One day, my mother sat my sister and me down on our big green couch and told us that the man who had raised us as our father — our stepfather, Kenneth — was not, you know, our real father, that our real father's name was Lee Oswald ... This helped explain why our school bus was sometimes followed by news teams, why our mailbox got shot at, why kids at school would ask, 'Did your daddy shoot the president?' At home we rarely discussed Lee. We were just trying to be a normal family."

• • •

In November 1963, Marina and Lee were estranged. She was living with Ruth Paine, an Irving, Texas, housewife battling the pain of her own failed marriage. Oswald was living in a rooming house while working at the Texas School Book Depository.

"I just feel she was a young mother trying hard to have her husband be someone who could support her, but he wasn't that," said Paine, now 81. "And she was very frightened by what she called his fantasies. We learned just the weekend before the assassination that he had been using an assumed name" at the rooming house, O.H. Lee. "She was so disturbed over that."

It was Oswald's pattern in those days to spend weekends at Paine's house, with Marina and the girls. So, it was surprising to Paine when she arrived home on Thursday night, Nov. 21, 1963, to find Oswald there. The ensuing night has remained forever shrouded in assassination folklore. Oswald spent it with his wife pleading for a new beginning. He tried to kiss her, but she rebuffed him. He pleaded for the two of them to get back together, and still, she rebuffed him.

The next morning, he left behind his wedding ring — which Marina recently auctioned for $108,000 — and $187 in cash. Within hours, the president was dead.

Over the years, Marina has told some journalists she has a lingering fear that her rejection of Oswald that night may have accelerated the assassination or at least failed to prevent it.

Posner finds the question intriguing: "Why would Oswald have had such an emotional discussion with her the night before if he wasn't serious?"

But as the other woman in the house that night, Paine deems such a conclusion unfair: "He clearly had decided that he was going to do this.''

And yet, Posner said, it remains one of the riddles of history. Would Kennedy have lived, had she simply said yes to her husband's requests?

The answer, of course, will never be known, even by the woman walking to her car in the parking lot of a Texas Walmart.

Forever fated to be Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald 11/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 18, 2013 6:23pm]
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