A visit to the grave of JFK’s assassin and an unexpected visit with a conspiracy theorist. Did he change my mind?

Ten days ago, I ventured to an oft-visited cemetery site a few miles north of the southwest Arlington home where we’ve lived for 26 years. After arriving at Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park in far east Fort Worth, I checked a couple of online sources to help me find the notable grave I was looking for.

It took nearly 15 minutes of wandering – and feeling almost like I shouldn’t be there, wondering if anyone in the houses across the street was watching me – before I finally came across it.

By the time I located Lee Harvey Oswald’s marker, another man also had been searching not far away for a few minutes. When I found it, I called out to him, thinking how embarrassed I’d feel if we weren’t there for the same reason.

“Are you looking for Oswald’s grave? It’s over here.”

He was.

I guess it’s the ever-present curiosity of a longtime journalist, or just one of those cases in life of wanting to say you’ve done something. I’ve been hoping to visit the burial place of the JFK assassin – yes, he did it – for years and never got around to it.

On this fall Saturday, Kay and I had just had lunch in downtown Arlington – at a favorite spot on State Highway 180, Division Street in Arlington, which a few miles west in Fort Worth becomes Lancaster Avenue, where the cemetery’s located – and we were in separate cars. She had another stop to make and I was heading home, so with the Nov. 22 assassination anniversary coming up, I decided to make a slight detour and check out the killer’s plot.

I was a bit surprised no one else was there when I arrived – not that I expected a crowd. But I do realize that over the decades since November 1963, the site has had countless visitors and gawkers standing on the same grass where I stood, staring at Oswald’s grave while feeling vastly differing ranges of emotions. Many likely have spat on the stone and condemned Oswald for his heinous crime, others either revering him because they were JFK haters or paying homage to a man they believe to have been innocent.

I suppose it should have felt eerie as I stood next to the plain-granite marker that reads simply “OSWALD” (the original was stolen four years after Jack Ruby shot him to death), reflecting on how the course of history was changed forever 59 years ago by this man’s reprehensible actions.

I felt the tug of the history, but because this was the grave of a U.S. president’s murderer, I felt no emotion. I’ve always seen him as a monster because of what he did to a great leader and to our country when I was three months from turning 3 years old.

There are many who believe the 24-year-old Oswald was not the person who gunned down President Kennedy as he rode in his motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. Or that he was part of a conspiracy to do so but didn’t pull the trigger, that the shots weren’t fired from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository but instead from the nearby grassy knoll, that LBJ was part of a scheme to kill the president, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.

One of those who doesn’t believe Oswald killed JFK is the man who happened to visit the grave when I did. He’d been there before but told me it had been a few years. His name was Terry Brown, and he said he was 6 years old the day JFK was assassinated.

Let me first say that Terry seemed like an entirely normal, sensible guy. He didn’t strike me as a kook – not that I consider everyone who believes in conspiracy theories a nut job. We talked for about 20 minutes, and he told me a lot of things I’d never heard. I listened and tried to make sense of what he was calmly telling me.

I’ll have to admit that I haven’t done as much research on the assassination as a lot of people have, and I definitely haven’t immersed myself in the numerous JFK conspiracies that have continued to circulate over the decades. For years, I’ve felt that Oswald acted alone, and I suppose I’ve never really allowed myself to think otherwise.

For one, Terry insisted, Oswald wasn’t even on the sixth floor of the depository when the shooting took place – he was in a second-floor break room drinking a Dr Pepper. I’ve never heard that one, and I think it’s poppycock (a cleaner word than first came to mind).

One of the things Terry talked about was the married but separated Oswald’s girlfriend at the time, the now 79-year-old Judyth Vary Baker, whom I’d never heard of, and about how she had been working with the U.S. government on a new type of cancer targeting Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Terry said Oswald was in on this, and that it’s all in one of Baker’s books, “Me & Lee: How I Came to Know, Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald.” She’s spent decades trying to prove Oswald’s innocence and has been widely attacked for it.

Terry mentioned that he, Baker – who moved to Europe to escape the criticism – and other supporters planned to be at Oswald’s grave for today’s assassination anniversary, and he invited me. I told him I’d be working, but I certainly wouldn’t have gone. He also invited me to the JFK Assassination Conference this past weekend in Dallas, where Baker and other experts were to speak. I did think about going to that, but not seriously, and not because anything he said gives me pause.

I understand there’s a lot of stuff out there about the assassination, much of it nonsense, much of it plausible. I believe it’s true that a lot of people wanted JFK dead. You could probably say the same about every U.S. president. Some of what I’ve heard and read over the years has made me begin to think other people might have been involved with Oswald in JFK’s demise.

But I still believe that Oswald fired the shots, and it’ll take a lot more than the conspiracy talk of a guy I met while standing next to LHO’s grave to convince me otherwise.

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