Who Owns Lee Harvey Oswald's Coffin? - Atlas Obscura
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Who Owns Lee Harvey Oswald’s Coffin?

 Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrest card (photograph by Heritage Auction Gallery / Wikimedia)

Lee Harvey Oswald, the sniper who launched a thousand conspiracy theories, was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery on November 25th, 1963, during a funeral so sparsely attended that reporters were asked to act as pallbearers. He was laid to rest in a simple pine coffin his brother Robert had purchased the day before for $300. Now, as the New York Times reports, ownership of that coffin is being disputed in a Fort Worth courthouse.

The reason the coffin is in question at all is that in 1981, Oswald’s body was exhumed at the behest of British writer Michael Eddowes, who believed that a Soviet spy had been buried there instead, and Oswald’s widow Marina Porter, who wanted to set to rest the doubts and conspiracies. Robert Oswald tried to block the exhumation with several restraining orders, but a Dallas judge ruled that a surviving wife has the right to control a deceased person’s remains over a brother. After Oswald’s body was exhumed and its identity verified, it was reburied in a metal coffin and steel vault. The original pine box, which was badly damaged, was returned to the Baumgardner Funeral Home in Fort Worth, Texas, from which it had originally been purchased. It remained in storage there for nearly three decades.

Oswald’s grave marker, used after the original tombstone was stollen (photograph by Iconsoffright / Wikimedia)

In 2010, Allen Baumgardner, the owner of the funeral home, began approaching museums to see if any wanted to acquire the coffin. He was unable to find any takers, and instead he sold it at auction to an anonymous buyer for $87,468. Robert then filed suit to stop the sale, contending that it was “ghoulish.” He further claims that he is the rightful owner of the pine box, and that Baumgardner had no right to sell it. Baumgardner has countered that the coffin is a “piece of history,” and his lawyer argued that Robert gave his brother the casket as a gift, and therefore never actually owned it.

Robert, who is 80 and is also suing for mental anguish, did not appear in court due to declining health, instead testifying via video. In the video he said, “It’s just bad taste, and as far as I know, it was sold by a bunch of scoundrels.” The judge is expected to decide the case after Christmas.