Thursday, July 18, 2013

Oswald's Wedding Band Up for Auction

Lee Harvey Oswald's Wedding Band Heading to Auction Block

Marina Oswald Porter wants to break all ties with “the worst day of my life” — the dreadful day her late husband, Lee Harvey Oswald, shot and killed President John F. Kennedy.
So she’s commissioned a New Hampshire auction house to sell Oswald’s gold wedding band, which had been ensnared in investigative and legal loops for nearly half a century.
In a five-page handwritten letter accompanying the ring that RR Auction estimates will fetch at least $30,000 to $50,000, Porter talks of distancing herself from her former husband.
The auction house, per Porter’s request, would not share the letter but provided The Dallas Morning Newswith a poignant excerpt:
“This is the only item of Lee’s that has been returned to me, and it took almost 50 years,” Porter said in the letter, dated May 5, 2013. “I’m remarried for many years now, raised my children and have been blessed with grandchildren.
“At this time of my life,” she wrote in the letter’s conclusion, “I don’t wish to have Lee’s ring in my possession because symbolicly [sic] I want to let go of my past that is connecting with Nov. 22, 1963.”
Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of the Amherst-based auction house handling the October sale, said Porter, who lives in the Rockwall area, would let the letter speak for her at a time when there is heightened international interest in the JFK assassination.
“Marina isn’t giving any interviews in relation to the 50th anniversary,” he said. “She’s very private.”
Still, Livingston said, Porter felt it important that “whoever bought the ring understood the significance from her perspective.”
Her letter, he said, chronicles the odyssey of the ring, starting with Oswald’s purchase of it in Minsk, Belarus, in 1961.
Porter refers to Oswald’s telling decision to leave the ring on a table beside her bed the day he killed the president. Before that, he purportedly never took it off.
And she makes reference to the Secret Service’s confiscation of the band 10 days after the assassination.
“She wanted to make sure whoever wins this ring understands where he got it and how he never took this ring off,” Livingston said. “It’s a fascinating letter.”
The ring, which was mentioned twice in the Warren Commission proceedings, was merely a historical footnote until 2004, when a Fort Worth law firm found it tucked in a manila folder with other legal documents.
The ring’s rightful ownership became a sticking point as the firm, Brackett & Ellis, tried to decipher how the band landed in the files of Forrest Markward, a retired attorney who had represented Porter in the aftermath of the assassination.
In an Oct. 28, 2007, article published in The Dallas Morning News, one of the partners of that law firm, Luke Ellis, said Markward, who was 90 in 2004 and suffering from Alzheimer’s, didn’t recall how the ring got there.
Markward died in 2009.
Ellis told veteran reporter Hugh Aynesworth in the 2007 article that he’d hoped the ring could be given to an institution where its historical significance could be distilled and displayed.
“I’d hate to see it on eBay,” Ellis said.
Ellis met with Nicola Longford, executive director of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, to gauge the museum’s interest, but the ring never changed hands.
“I would just say there were some preliminary inquiries that were being made and it’s protected by attorney-client privilege,” Longford said this week.
Longford declined to say why the talks never went any further.
“The lawyer probably was on a fact-finding mission,” she said. “It was really the law firm’s responsibility to handle.”
Ellis, 70, said Wednesday that museum officials “couldn’t accept it and we couldn’t give it to them because we didn’t know who owned it.”
In a July 24, 2012, letter to Porter that will be included with the auctioned ring, Ellis recounted how the wedding band wound up in his possession.
“I am writing you concerning a gold ring which appears to be a wedding band that may have belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald at the time of his death,” Ellis wrote.
“Our law firm came into possession of the ring when it was found among the files of Forrest Markward. … The ring is in an envelope marked ‘Treasury Department Secret Service,’ together with an unsigned receipt indicating the ring was delivered to the ‘United States Secret Service on December 2, 1963, by Mrs. Ruth Paine.’ ”
Marina Porter, who turned 72 on Wednesday, was staying with Paine, a friend, in Irving when the assassination occurred.
“There is no indication in Mr. Markward’s files how he came into possession of the ring,” Ellis wrote. “However, it appears to have been in his possession since 1964.”
Aynesworth reported in 2007 that a Secret Service document signed Dec. 30, 1964, by Marina Oswald indicated that federal agents gave the ring back to her that day.
However, Ellis said Wednesday that the ring was given to a Dallas lawyer who had represented Marina Oswald before Markward got involved. That attorney apparently packed it with the files he turned over to Markward.
“The Secret Service never returned it [directly] to Marina,” Ellis said.
Ellis said that while Markward didn’t recall “exactly how he got it,” the ring was found in a manila folder with this admonition: “Do Not Destroy — Historic Value.”
Ellis said no one staked a claim to the ring once it was discovered in 2004, and that’s why it took so long to return it to Porter.
“Nobody did anything with it — that’s the problem,” he said. “It sat in our fireproof safe for several years.”
But after he sent the letter to Porter last summer, he got a call from a Houston lawyer, a relative of Porter’s family, seeking the ring’s return.
Once all the paperwork establishing ownership was finished, Porter and other family members came to Fort Worth to retrieve the ring about six months ago, Ellis said.
“We as a firm made a decision that we had to get rid of the ring and we would have loved to have given it to a museum, but we’re happy to give it to the family,” he said.
Livingston said Porter is eager to part with the ring, which is engraved with a hammer-and-sickle insignia inside.
“We’re selling it on behalf of Marina, who’s on a fixed income,” he said. “She’s 72. She’s raised her children, her grandchildren. She wants nothing to do with the ring; she wants nothing to do with that day.
“It was not something she expected to see,” Livingston said of the ring. “She got it, and what do you do with it?”

TIMELINE: Wedding band's history

1961: Lee Harvey Oswald buys a gold wedding band in Minsk, Belarus.
April 30, 1961: Oswald marries Marina Prusakova.
Nov. 22, 1963: Oswald leaves the ring and money in cup on a night table next to Marina Oswald’s bed at Ruth Paine’s home in Irving, where his wife and their two children were staying at the time.
Dec. 2, 1963: The Secret Service confiscates the ring from Paine.
Dec. 30, 1964: The Secret Service returns the ring to a Dallas lawyer who once represented Marina Oswald; that lawyer included it in files transferred to a Fort Worth attorney, Forrest Markward of Bracket & Ellis, who represented Marina Oswald from late 1963 to early 1965.
2004: The ring surfaces in old files at the law office of Brackett & Ellis.
July 24, 2012: A letter from Luke Ellis of Brackett & Ellis informs Marina Oswald Porter of the ring’s discovery in Markward’s files.
Early 2013: Porter goes to Fort Worth and gets the ring back from Ellis.
May 5, 2013: Porter writes a five-page letter for RR Auction documenting the ring’s history.

The auction

What: Auction of Lee Harvey Oswald wedding band
When: Oct. 24
Where: Boston

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