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The Highly Unusual Funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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."

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This Just In
Police Recover Nearly 100 Artifacts Stolen From John Lennon’s Estate
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Keystone Features / Stringer / Getty Images

A collection of artifacts stolen from John Lennon’s estate, including diaries, glasses, and handwritten music, has been recovered by German police, the Associated Press reports. After arresting the first suspect, law enforcement is now working to apprehend a second person of interest in the case.

The nearly 100 items went missing from the New York home of the late Beatles star’s widow Yoko Ono in 2006. Years later, German police were tipped off to their whereabouts when a bankruptcy administrator came across the haul in the storage facility of a Berlin auction house. The three leather-bound diaries that were recovered are dated 1975, 1979, and 1980. One entry refers to Lennon’s famous nude photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, and another was written the morning of December 8, 1980, hours before he was shot and killed. In addition to the journals, police retrieved two pairs of his iconic glasses, a 1965 recording of a Beatles concert, a 1952 school book, contract documents for the copyright of the song “I’m the Greatest”, handwritten scores for "Woman" and "Just Like Starting Over”, and a cigarette case.

German authorities flew to New York to have Ono verify the items' authenticity. "She was very emotional and we noticed clearly how much these things mean to her,” prosecutor Susann Wettley told AP. When the objects will be returned to Ono is still unclear.

The first suspect, a 58-year-old German businessman from Turkey, was arrested Monday, November 21, following a raid of his house and vehicles. The second suspect is one of Ono's former chauffeurs who has a past conviction related to the theft. Police officers are hoping to extradite him from his current home in Turkey before moving forward with the case.

[h/t AP]

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History
How a London Tragedy Led to the Creation of 911
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Fox Photos/Getty Images

In trouble? Pick up the phone and call 911. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 240 million 911 calls are made each year. But if it weren’t for a house fire and a group of angry Brits, the system might not exist today.

Though 911 is an American staple, its origins are in England. In 1935, there was no such thing as an emergency phone number, and phone calls were dependent on operators who connected people to exchanges or emergency services when necessary. England did have emergency fire call points, but they didn’t use telephone technology—instead, they relied on the telegraph, which was used to send a signal to fire departments from special boxes [PDF]. There were police call points, too, but they were generally unstandardized and inefficient, since police didn’t have a way to receive emergency calls while on their beats. Instead, officers would check in during their rounds at special police boxes, like the one you probably recognize from Doctor Who.

But all that changed after November 10, 1935, when a fire broke out at the home of a prominent London surgeon, Philip Franklin, at 27 Wimpole Street. As the blaze tore through the building, five women sleeping on the upper floors—Franklin’s wife and niece, as well as three servants—became trapped. A neighbor, Norman MacDonald, heard their screams and promptly picked up the phone to dial the operator. Nobody answered.

“It seemed entirely futile to continue holding on and listening to ringing tone, which awakened no response,” he later wrote. A neighbor went to a fire call point and firefighters soon arrived, but they were unable to save the five women.

27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The tragedy sparked a national inquiry—and outrage. Two years later, London unveiled a new service: the emergency number 999. Officials thought it would be best to choose a number that was easy to find by touch on a rotary dial, and rejected a number of other options, like 111, that might be triggered by equipment malfunctions. (It wasn’t unusual for lines rubbing together and other technical glitches to trigger a 111 call; 222 was already in use by a local exchange, while 000 would have just contacted the operator after the first zero.)

The new number wasn’t immediately embraced. Of over 1000 calls made the first week, nearly 7 percent were pranks. And some members of Parliament objected, saying it would be easier to just install an emergency button on phones instead.

A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
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The United States had a similar system of police telephones and signal boxes, but like the UK it lacked the technology to quickly and effectively call authorities during emergencies. In the 1950s, the National Association of Fire Chiefs, inspired by the UK’s system, requested a national emergency number, and by 1967 the FTC was meeting with AT&T, the nation’s largest telephone company, to hash out a plan.

The first 911 call in the United States—a test call made from a mayor’s office—was made in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 [PDF]. The numbers 911 reportedly made the grade because they weren’t in use for any existing phone exchange, and were catchy and easily remembered.

As the service rolled out nationwide, police and fire departments struggled to keep up with call volume. Despite the success of the program, New York police, in particular, reported being strained and having to hire more officers.

It took a long time to implement the system. Only 50 percent of the United States had 911 service as of 1987, according to NENA. Today, coverage is still not universal, although it’s close: 96 percent of the country is currently covered.

The evolution of telephone technology has brought new challenges, however: The FCC estimates that a full 70 percent of calls now come from cell phones—and given the mobility of mobile phones, that’s a challenge for dispatchers and phone companies. The 911 system was built for landlines, and cell phone GPS systems don’t always transmit data quickly or accurately. Plus, the proliferation of cell phones has led to a spike in accidental butt dials, which tie up the line and can prevent real emergencies from getting the attention they need. Still, we've come a long way from the days of sending telegraph messages inside boxes.

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