by Bill Simpich [Originally published 12/21/2014]
The premise of this series is that Oswald had twelve people who built his legend. Many people still believe the legend about Oswald being “a loner.” As this series shows, Oswald was many things, but a loner was not one of them. His ability to provoke people and work both sides of the political spectrum had the intelligence agencies viewing him as an asset.
Let’s turn to a liberal couple that moved to the Dallas suburb of Irving in 1959 – during the same week that Oswald came to visit his mother in Irving before he left for the USSR. When Oswald came back to the area in 1962, the Paines were still there. It was like they had been waiting for him.
Michael Paine was legend maker #12 for Lee Oswald, while his wife Ruth Paine focused on taking care of Marina Oswald and the children. Like most of the legend makers, I think the Paines were manipulated as much as the Oswalds were. We have seen two CIA officers as legend makers – Richard Snyder and Anne Goodpasture – who I think had a pretty good idea of how they were being used to massage the Oswald legend. The Paines appear to be confused right up to 11/22/63.
Although the Paines appear to be government assets rather than agents, I suspect that they knew about the government’s need to keep an eye on Oswald. They probably thought that they were helping out the CIA, the State Department, or Bob Odum at the local FBI office. I do not believe that they played any role in planning the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
There was a dramatic event in the moments after JFK’s assassination, where several credible witnesses saw a man looking like Oswald escaping from the book depository in a vehicle looking like Ruth Paine’s.
I believe that this event was designed to warn the Paines to shut-up and let the “Oswald-as-lone-gunman” story go forward.
Here’s the evidence that I will offer in support of my statements above.
We met the Paines in Part 7 of this series, when they took over the baby-sitting chores from George de Mohrenschildt (Legend Maker #9) as he prepared to leave for Haiti in April. Lee Oswald left for New Orleans at about the same time looking for work after being fired from the photo lab at the beginning of the month.
At Ruth Paine’s invitation, Marina and daughter June moved in with the Paine family until Oswald found work in New Orleans. Like the Oswalds, the Paines were having marital difficulties. It was easy for the Russian-speaking Ruth to invite Marina to move into her home so that she could improve her Russian by speaking with her. [i] Throughout 1963, both Michael Paine and Lee Oswald had their own homes, living separate from their families most of the time.
At the end of the summer of 1963, the Oswald family decided to return to Dallas. Lee considered looking for work in the Philadelphia-Baltimore-DC area. Both Michael and Ruth had relatives in all three cities that could have put him up, but Lee never took any decisive action on this front that is known.
Either Oswald or someone looking a lot like him went to Mexico City to see if he could obtain visas to enable the family to return to the Soviet Union. Marina was due to give birth in late October and it made sense for her to be back in Minsk where she would have the support of her family. Throughout 1963, both of the Oswalds had asked the Soviet consulate in Washington DC to provide them visas to return to the USSR, but without success.
Ruth Paine went to New Orleans and drove Marina and baby June to her home. She decided to take Marina into her home during the last stages of Marina’s pregnancy. When Oswald’s attempt to obtain visas failed in Mexico City, he returned to Dallas on October 3. Oswald quickly got himself a place in a rooming house, visiting Marina and June at the Paine residence on the weekends. Although Ruth Paine and Michael paine were separated, Michael would come over to visit and found himself spending time with Lee.
Michael Paine got Lee Oswald to join the ACLU, which weakened Lee’s most powerful advocate
Like Lee, Michael was fascinated with both left and right-wing political groups. Lee and Michael enjoyed talking politics. [ii] Paine claimed that he only met Oswald six times before the assassination — April 2, October 4, October 18, November 8, 9 and 10. [iii] Regardless of how accurate Paine’s memory was, the important thing is that his actions led Oswald to make the unfortunate decision to join the ACLU three weeks before he died. The result was to cut off Oswald’s most important ally at the knees.
On October 5, Lee went to an ACLU meeting at Southern Methodist that was focused on outrages being committed by the ultra-right. [iv] On October 23, Lee went to a John Birch Society meeting that was headed by General Walker. [v] On October 24, Michael went to a sparsely attended John Birch Society meeting while most of the Birchers were outside attacking Adlai Stevenson, just one of “a number of rightist meetings and seminars” that he would check out. [vi] On October 25, Lee and Michael attended an ACLU meeting together at Southern Methodist. [vii] On the day after the assassination, Oswald supposedly told his interrogators that he was an ACLU member. Oswald had submitted the requisite documents, and were received by the ACLU headquarters on the 4th of November. [viii]
In other words, Paine created a conflict of interest between Oswald and the only organization that would champion his cause in the days immediately after his death. The ACLU told the press:
“It is our opinion that Lee Harvey Oswald, had he lived, would have been denied a fair trial by the conduct of the police and the prosecuting officials in Dallas, under pressure from the public and the news media.”
Time and again, police and prosecution officials stated their complete satisfaction that Oswald was the assassin. As their investigation uncovered one piece of alleged evidence after another, the results were broadcast to the public.
The ACLU told the public that “Oswald’s trial would have been nothing but a hollow formality.”[ix]
Oswald’s ties to the ACLU smeared the organization and injured its credibility in its attempts to defend Oswald after his death. A bad situation became worse when the ACLU chair was too cute by half, saying that since Oswald’s application had never processed by ACLU headquarters, he was not an actual “member” before his death. [x] Oswald made the ACLU look bad after his death — it’s hard to imagine how the group would have looked if Oswald had lived.
Bill Harvey had a bird’s eye view into John Abt, the left-wing Quakers, and the Communist Party USA
Remember that Oswald turned away other lawyers to hold out for the attorney John Abt, counsel for the Communist Party USA. This is a real tragedy, because if Oswald had told his story to a lawyer, the lawyer would have been free to tell the public after Oswald was killed. Why was Oswald so stubborn on this point?
Apparently because Mr. Abt had a lot of experience in defending clients who had been framed by the government. Oswald may have been totally sincere, but — as with his joining the ACLU in the last days before the assassination – it looks to me like Oswald was given very damaging advice from Michael Paine and maybe others.
Who was John Abt? Abt had a fascinating background of his own.
In the 1930s, John Abt was a member of the Ware Group, a network of young left-wing lawyers such as Alger Hiss and economists Nathaniel Weyl working in FDR’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Their original leader was Hal Ware, the leading agricultural expert for the CPUSA. What began as a discussion group turned into an Soviet espionage network over time.
When Ware died in an auto accident in 1935, Abt married Ware’s widow Jessica Smith, while Whittaker Chambers took over the leadership of the Ware Group. Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist Party candidate, conducted the wedding of Abt and Smith. Smith, a Swarthmore graduate, had signed up in the 20s to work with the Quaker mission to address famine in the Soviet Union. Smith and Ruth Paine were in the same social circles. Not only were both of them active in the left-wing political wing of the Quakers, but Ruth’s family had been long-time supporters of Norman Thomas.
The Ware Group had a period of inactivity for several years after Chambers left in 1938 to join the Quakers and write for Time magazine, only to regain momentum when they came together around a statistician with the War Production Board named Victor Perlo. John Abt enlisted an upper-class woman, Elizabeth Bentley, into the espionage activities of what was now known as the Perlo Group. Abt left the group shortly afterwards.
A big-time alcoholic, Bentley became a double agent. She blew the whistle on the members of the Perlo Group. The Justice Department used her revelations as an excuse to issue indictments in July 1948 against the leaders of the Communist Party USA, with Bentley’s identity blown by the newspapers. (Lauren Kessler, Clever Girl (HarperCollins, 2003), pp. 156-159.)
In the ensuing uproar, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) went into session the day after Bentley testified before a Senate committee. Bentley sang like a canary, exposing the identities of Abt and the members of the Perlo Group as part of a communist espionage ring. Chambers then came forward and backed up Bentley’s claims, adding the names of the Ware Group members and Alger Hiss in particular. At this point, Hiss had gone on to become one of the moving forces of the United Nations and was the new president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (Kessler, pp. 179-181)
The short-term result was the Hiss-Chambers drama during the heat of the 1948 election, and the HUAC congressman Dick Nixon got the exposure he needed to mount a national career in politics. The long-term result was to fuel a period of paranoia now known as the McCarthy era.
Bentley’s FBI interrogator from 1945 to 1947 was the future chief of the CIA’s assassinations team – William Harvey. By 1963, Harvey had enjoyed for many years a bird’s view of John Abt, left-wing Quaker activity, and the Communist Party USA. Undiagnosed complications from exploratory surgery that revealed an inoperable and virulent cancer took Bentley’s life at age 55, ten days after the JFK assassination.
Paine superficially resembled Oswald, and had a provocative streak of his own
Besides convincing Lee to join the ACLU, Paine had a provocative streak similar to Oswald. Shortly after meeting Lee, Michael told the FBI that he began to frequent Luby’s Cafeteria across from Southern Methodist University after Sunday services in April-May 1963. Paine enjoyed engaging in political conversations or debates with students, taking a pro-Castro, pro-Cuba, pro-peace-with-the-USSR viewpoint.
Attorney Ed Buck told a remarkable story about his run-in with “a tall slender man”about 6’2″, 160 pounds” at Luby’s Cafeteria, and how the unknown man mentioned his friendship with Lee Oswald. The man also told Buck that he used to work with books before he went to work at Bell Helicopter.
The FBI Albequerque office concluded that the unknown man could only be Michael Paine. [xi] Paine was interviewed and agreed that it was probably him. Robert Gemberling, a prominent FBI investigator of Oswald, omitted from his reports Buck’s perfect physical description of Paine. [xii]
Michael is described as looking like Oswald in 1963 — Paine had a similar slender frame as Oswald, but quite a bit taller, 35 years old, standing 6’2 and weighing 160 — here is a picture of Michael and Ruth during that time. [xiii] People who have seen film of Paine during 1964 say that he was not an Oswald look-alike, but that there was a resemblance. [xiv]
Michael Paine, circa 1963
(Image by Spartacus International) Michael Paine’ stepfather was the reason Bell Aircraft became Bell Helicopter
Before going any farther with the story, this is a good time to stretch out and take a long look at just who is Michael Paine. The man presents a sea of contradictions. Like Oswald, he combines some left-wing and some right-wing tendencies. He is a descendant of Robert Treat Paine, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. [xv] His mother was Ruth Forbes Paine; Michael virtually never saw his father Lyman Paine from age 4 until his wedding. [xvi]
Michael always considered himself more a member of the Forbes family than the Paine family. [xvii] Michael sang in the choir of the First Unitarian Church, and pastor Byrd Helligas described him as an active member. [xviii] An avowed pacifist, Michael served in the 40th Division in Korea between 1952-54 as an artillery infantryman,[xix] even though he refused to take the oath of allegiance when inducted in 1952. [xx] Paine proceeded to win two Bronze Stars. [xxi]
Paine worked for Bell Helicopter, with ex-Nazi Walter Dornberger as the supervisor of Paine’s division of classified projects for Bell Aerospace. Dornberger was the former head of the Nazi Peenemunde rocket center, and surrendered to the US Army with his compatriot Wernher von Braun as part of the infamous Project Paperclip. [xxii]
Michael’s stepfather, Arthur Young, invented the original Bell Helicopter. [xxiii] Young was proud of the uses of the helicopter in fighting forest fires and in MASH evacuations in Korea, but didn’t like its conversion into an attack weapon in Vietnam. [xxiv] After Michael flunked out of Harvard in 1949, he increasingly spent time in the barn of the Young place in Paoli, PA, where he experimented with new types of aeronautical vehicles. [xxv] Michael was apparently trying to emulate Arthur. The helicopter was so successful that the company changed its name from Bell Aircraft to Bell Helicopter.
Michael’s birth father Lyman Paine was a well-known architect. A lifelong left-wing Trotskyist, Lyman Paine got into a political battle with fellow party member James Burnham over the direction of the communist movement – until Burnham joined the CIA and postwar right-wing activists such as William Buckley.
Lyman and his wife were on the Security Index, while Michael had a confidential clearance to work at Bell Helicopter. Michael and Lyman rarely saw each other after Lyman divorced Michael’s mother. Michael’s brother Cameron did not believe that their father had been a major influence on either of them.
Michael’s mother was Ruth Forbes, later known as Ruth Forbes Paine Young after her two marriages to George Lyman Paine and Arthur Young. The Youngs were Quakers and prominent in Philadelphia circles.
Ruth Paine was active in bringing Soviets and Americans together
Who is Ruth Paine, formerly married to Michael? Like Michael, Ruth Hyde Paine s an avowed pacifist. Her parents were Unitarians, and her mother was a minister. She joined the Quakers in 1951. Ruth became active with the East-West Contacts Committee through the Quakers, a society of pen pal correspondence with the Soviet Union that led her to the study of Russian in 1955. [xxvi] Ruth’s activity with the East-West Contacts Committee led her to organize a 2500 mile walk in 1957 by five Americans and three Russians. This included working with the Committee of Soviet Youth Organizations. [xxvii]
Ruth also worked on an American-Russian student exchange organized by this committee in 1958, taking an active role in making the travel arrangements for the Russian visitors. The Paines told the Warren Commission that Ruth was a prominent committee member, but never addressed who was Ruth’s contact with the State Department to get the travel arrangements done.
I think she had such a contact, and the contact’s probable identity tells us a lot. The Director of East-West Contacts within the State Department, Frederick Merrill, stated his approval of this 1958 exchange. [xxviii] Merrill worked with the Free Europe Committee, which funded Radio Free Europe and other projects to ensure the flow of funds to Soviet exile groups. [xxix] Michael Paine allowed that Ruth may have written the State Department to set up this exchange. [xxx] The next year, Merrill informed the chief of CIA East-West Contacts that the Rand Corporation was asking the State Department about Robert Webster’s whereabouts when he defected to the Soviet Union. [xxxi] Oswald was to follow in Webster’s footsteps just days later.
While Ruth attended Russian classes for seven weeks during the summer of 1959 at Middlebury College in Vermont, Michael landed his classified job at Bell Helicopter in Irving, Texas. Curiously, sources differ on whether it was during January or July 1959. [xxxii] This should have set off alarm bells throughout the intelligence agencies.
When investigating Priscilla Johnson in 1958, CIA security focused on Johnson’s study of Russian at Middlebury College in Vermont during the summers of 1948 and 1950: “The Russian Language Summer School at Middlebury College is staffed almost entirely by teachers from the American-Russian Institute which has been cited by the Attorney General under E.O. 10450.”[xxxiii]
Ruth testified that she took a summer course at the University of Pennsylvania in 1957, two Berlitz courses in Philadelphia in 1958 and 1960, some private lessons with Mrs. Dorothy Gravitis, and the 1959 summer course at Middlebury. [xxxiv] Ruth’s mother-in-law claimed that Ruth had spent four or five summers studying Russian at Middlebury, which looks like puffing based on the record. [xxxv] We do know that Ruth had taken 42 Berlitz lessons when she transferred her classes from Philadelphia to Dallas on September 9, 1959, indicating that she was trying to learn it in a hurry. [xxxvi]
The Paines moved to Irving, Texas on or about September 13, 1959, at the same time that Oswald was making his move from the area to the USSR. [xxxvii] The ostensible reason was to work at Bell Helicopter, but the timing was remarkable. To my knowledge, it was the only weekend that Oswald spent in Irving between 1956 to 1962. Wittingly or not, the Paines were now in an ideal physical locale to assist Oswald if his trip to the USSR was unsuccessful.
If anyone in the CIA played a role to entice the Paines to move to Texas during September 1959, Cord Meyer (Legend Maker #2) would be the ideal candidate. As discussed at the beginning of this series, Meyer could play the anti-Communist Left in America like a violin. His years as an activist for the United World Federalists brought him in contact with the various skeins of the Unitarian and Quaker communities. In the fifties, Meyer worked with the CIA’s International Organizations division. By 1963, Meyer was the chief of the Covert Action staff. [xxxviii]
Oswald was discharged from the Army on Sept. 11, 1959. The next day, he visited his brother Robert in Fort Worth. His mother testified that he visited with her on or about Sept. 14 for about three days before he went to New Orleans to take a freighter to Europe on the 16th. [xxxix]
Hoover states near the close of the Warren Commission that extensive investigation was done of de Mohrenschildt and the Paines, and found that they were not communists, fascists, or subversives. Hoover did not address the evidence of their intelligence connections, which is extensive and wide-ranging. [xl]
Ruth Hyde Paine’s interest in Russian was never very great, despite her years of study, but it was good enough to qualify her as Marina’s legend maker and help quell any suspicions that Marina could speak English
Despite Ruth’s years of Russian study, and her claim that she had Marina to move in so that she could improve her skills, she was forced to admit that “my actual skill didn’t progress fast enough to be of any real use.”[xli] Her Middlebury roommate Helen Mamikonian described Ruth’s Russian as “very poor”. [xlii]
Ruth was introduced to Marina Oswald because geologist Everett Glover knew that she was studying Russian with the hopes of becoming a teacher. [xliii] Ruth went so far as to tutor one young student in Russian during 1963. [xliv] There is no evidence that she continued her study of Russian after Lee Oswald’s death.
In the moments after JFK’s assassination, Ruth Paine pitched in and helped the law enforcement officers with translation until Ilya Mamantov came on the scene. Mamantov was a Dallas White Russian. Mamantov’s mother-in-law was the aforementioned Dorothy Gravitis who had given Paine some private Russian lessons.
Gravitis heard Ruth Paine speak Russian and was frank in assessing her command of the language as “very poor”, even for an American. [xlv]
Wittingly or unwittingly, Ruth knew enough Russian to provide protective cover for Marina, who needed to hide her knowledge of English. Robert Webster told writer Dick Russell that Marina only spoke English to him when he was in the USSR. (John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, p. 267).
A “spot report” from Dallas says that Mamantov came on the scene only after Army Reserve officer contacts was contacted and asked for assistance. [xlvi] Was the Paine family the link?
Gravitis also had met Marina, and testified that Marina told her that Oswald was “ideinyi”, a not easily translatable Russian word. Mamantov, who was translating, explained that it meant “a person who believes in Communist movement, Communist ideals, but doesn’t yet hold a ticket or membership in the Communist Party”. [xlvii]
Marina’s statement to Gravitis was mere cover for Lee. Marina knew that Lee was at least a wannabe spy, because of his reluctance to publicly speak Russian in the Soviet Union. Lee knew that Marina owed Soviet intelligence some favors. Otherwise, she probably would not have been allowed to leave, and would not have hid her knowledge of English to the general public.
To this day, nothing that Marina says can be relied on as the truth. For a variety of reasons linked to her own personal survival in the wake of the assassination Marina has been forced to say many things that are not true. The most important reason was simply to obtain a permanent visa so that she could remain in the USA.
– Bill Simpich[Bill Simpich is a civil rights attorney and an antiwar activist in the San Francisco Bay Area.]
A big shout-out to Linda Minor, who has just published an incredible multi-part series on the Paines this autumn. Also to Carol Hewett, Barbara Lamonica, Nancy Wertz, Steve Jones, Bill Kelly, the late George Michael Evica, Jim DiEugenio, Jim Douglass, and everyone else who have put in the time in sorting out the role of this enigmatic couple.
[i] Interview by Bardwell Odum with Ruth Paine, 11/25/63, Commission Document 5 – FBI Gemberling Report of 30 Nov 1963 re: Oswald, p. 198. http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=10406&relPageId=204
[ii] They loved to talk politics and would sometimes go to meetings together: Barbara LaMonica, Steve Jones, and Carol Hewett, “The Paines”, Fourth Decade, May 1996.
[iii] Paine claimed he only met Oswald six times: Interview with Bardwell Odum and James Hosty, 11/26/63. https://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=9908&relPageId=84
[iv] On October 5, Lee went to an ACLU meeting at Southern Methodist: Lee Harvey Oswald letter to the Daily Worker, 11/1/63. See Warren Commission, Volume 20, pp. 171-173.
[v] On October 23, Lee went to a John Birch Society meeting”: FBI interview by Bardwell Odum of Michael Paine, p. 2. 11/25/63. Oswald 201 File, Vol 3, Folder 9A, Part 2 http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?mode=searchResult&absPageId=993043
“headed by General Walker: Warren Commission, Volume 20, pp. 171-173, Oswald letter to the Daily Worker, 11/1/63.[vi] On October 24, Michael went to a sparsely attended John Birch Society meeting, while most of the Birchers were outside attacking Adlai Stevenson: Testimony of Michael Paine, Warren Commission, Vol. 2, p. 388-389, 3/18/64.
Taking a pro-Castro, pro-Cuba, pro-peace with Russia viewpoint: Id., Warren Commission Exhibit 1245, p. 191, Robert P. Gemberling insert re SA William Curran interview with Ed Buck, 6/19/64; also Robert P. Gemberling report, p. 4, Oswald 201 File, Vol 45/NARA Record Number: 1993.06.15.18:01:50:090000.
Also see George Michael Evica, A Certain Arrogance, p. 249.
[xiv] People who have seen film of Paine during 1964 say that he was not a total Oswald look-alike, but close: William Weston, “Laura Kittrell — Oswald’s Unemployment Counselor, Part One” Fourth Decade, Volume 8, No. 1, p. 6 (November 2000). click here
[xv] His mother was Ruth Forbes Paine; Michael virtually never saw his father Lyman Paine from age 4 until his wedding: James Boggs, Grace Lee Boggs, Lyman Paine, Freddy Paine, Conversations in Maine: Exploring Our Nation’s Future (Boston, South End Press: 1978) p. xvi, 72.
[xvi] 12/18/63 interview by FBI SA Otis Burton with Mrs. Arthur Young. Commission Document 217 – FBI Wineberg Report of 19 Dec 1963 re: Michael Paine,
Artillery infantryman: SA A. Raymond Switzer and James Hosty interview with Michael Paine, 6/25/64, Warren Commission Document 1245, p. 197.
40th Division: Nancy Wertz, “Michael Paine — A Life of Unanswered Paradoxes”, Kennedy Assassination Chronicles, Winter 1998, p. 20.
12/13/63 report of SA James Hosty, p. 2; FBI – Ruth and Michael Paine Files/
NARA Record Number: 124-10137-10104.
[xxiv] Young was proud of the uses of the helicopter in fighting forest fires and MASH evacuations in Korea, but didn’t like its conversion into an attack weapon in Vietnam: Interview of Arthur M. Young by William Kelly; see JFK Countercoup, 12/20/09.
Michael Paine was hired on July 27, 1959: Oswald 201 File, Vol 45/NARA Record Number: 1993.06.15.18:01:50:090000. http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=96443&relPageId=7
Or January: “ The Credit Association file indicates that Michael had been working at Bell Helicopter since January 1959. Insert by SA Raymond Eckendrode, 3/25/64. Commission Document 849 – FBI Hosty Jr. Report of 08 Apr 1964 re: The Paines/Russia, p. 4. http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=11246&relPageId=5
Ruth Paine wrote the Credit Bureau on September 5, asking them to transfer their credit accounts from Philadelphia to Irving, Texas, informing them that they were moving to Irving, Texas on or about September 13, 1959: Memo of SA Raymond Eckenrode, 3/25/64, Commission Document 849 – FBI Hosty Jr. Report of 08 Apr 1964 re: The Paines/Russia, p. 5. http://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?mode=searchResult&absPageId=355237
Irving is a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. The Paines opened a joint account in an Irving bank on September 14. This is during the 72-hour period that Oswald was in the vicinity. Report of SA Raymond Eckenrode, 4/2/64,