Left: A color photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald, taken at Dallas Police headquarters on November 23, 1963.
At the center of one of the 20th century's most shocking and traumatic events - the assassination of President John F. Kennedy - was a 24-year-old whose unusual life's journey stretched from New Orleans, New York City and Texas to the Soviet Union, from U.S. Marine to defector, from a temperamental man who had difficulty holding a job, to a figure infamous for being either a lone gunman who brought down a president, or part of a shadowy conspiracy.
By CBS News.com senior producer David Morgan
Lee Harvey Oswald
Living in Fort Worth, Texas, and then New York City, young Oswald exhibited discipline problems - skipping school, and exhibiting a propensity to fight with classmates.
Left: Lee Harvey Oswald, pictured at age 12 in the early 1950s.
Lee Harvey OswaldAs reported in a 1964 Life magazine article, Dr. Renatus Hartogs, chief psychiatrist at New York's Youth House for Boys, had examined Oswald at the request of the Bronx Children's Court. He found the youth to be emotionally disturbed and prone to isolating himself from others, with an attitude that was defiant, suspicious, overly sensitive and vengeful. He referred to Oswald as possessing "potential dangerousness."
Returning to New Orleans, Oswald did poorly in 8th grade; he foresaw entering the military or becoming a draftsman. In 9th grade his scores improved, but he left high school. Rejected by the military at 16 because of his age, Oswald took various jobs, read vociferously (including books on Marxism), and reentered high school in Fort Worth, Texas. But at 17 he dropped out again and signed up with the Marine Corps.
Left: Photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald as a Marine c. 1956.
Lee Harvey OswaldAs a Marine Oswald ranked as a sharpshooter in scoring with an M-1 rifle.
Oswald served for three years in the Marines, including a stint in Okinawa.
Turning 20, Oswald left the Corps (where his fellow Marines remarked on his growing interest in Marxism) and applied to school in Switzerland.
Lee Harvey OswaldTraveling in Europe, Oswald sought Soviet citizenship through the U.S.S.R.'s embassy in Helsinki, Finland. "I am a Communist and a worker," he wrote. "I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves." Complaining of having seen "American military imperialism in all its forms," Oswald said he had saved his money to move to the Soviet Union, and that no other country was an option for him.
He was denied.
In his diary Oswald wrote of attempting suicide in his hotel, where he was found in a bathtub with his left wrist slit.
After being released from the hospital Oswald informed the U.S. Consulate that he was rejecting his U.S. citizenship.
Lee Harvey OswaldOswald was ultimately granted asylum and moved to Minsk, where he worked at an electronics factory. He also met Marina Prusakova, a 19-year-old pharmacology student. The two married in 1961.
Left: An undated photo of Lee Harvey Oswald and Marina on the main square in Minsk.
After the Cold War ended, revelations from newly-opened KGB files showed that Oswald (who went by the name Alex) and Marina were under constant surveillance from Soviet intelligence, which even installed a peephole into their bedroom.
Lee Harvey OswaldAn undated photo of Marina Prusakova, who married Lee Harvey Oswald in 1961.
Their first daughter, June, was born in February 1962.
Lee Harvey OswaldOswald grew disaffected living in the U.S.S.R. He chose not to apply for citizenship, and when his visa expired, he applied for residency back in the United States for himself and his family.
Left: Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife, Marina, are seen aboard a train as they depart Russia in 1962.
After returning to the U.S., Oswald quit or was fired from several jobs in Fort Worth and Dallas. In March 1963 Marina applied for permanent residency back in the Soviet Union with her daughter.
Lee Harvey OswaldLeft: A fake Selective Service ID card created by Lee Harvey Oswald, when he worked at a photo lab in Dallas.
Lee Harvey OswaldTwo photos of Lee Harvey Oswald posing with a rifle in the backyard of his home in Dallas. Manufactured in Italy, the 6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 rifle with an attached telescopic sight was purchased by Oswald in March 1963 via mail order, using an alias. The rifle cost $19.95 plus shipping and handling. Oswald also purchased a .38 revolver from a different mail order company.
In 2009 Hany Farid, director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College, conducted a digital analysis of the backyard photographs, which have been suspected of being doctored. He determined there was no indication that the images were faked.
Lee Harvey OswaldMajor Gen. Edwin A. "Ted" Walker (1909-1993), known for his outspoken anti-Communist and segregationist views, was the target of an assassination attempt later pinned on Oswald.
On April 10, 1963 - a night when Marina Oswald said her husband had left an ominous note for her warning that he might be arrested - an unknown assailant fired a rifle into Walker's home in Dallas, injuring him. Two men were seen leaving the area in separate cars. After the Kennedy assassination, ballistic tests suggested that the rifle found at the Texas School Book Depository was the same weapon.
Walker (who had been a harsh critic of the Kennedy administration, and had been relieved of his command by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara) spoke for years afterwards of his belief that Oswald and another shooter were involved in both incidents.
Lee Harvey OswaldTwo weeks after the Walker shooting Oswald moved to New Orleans, where he worked briefly at a coffee company owned by an anti-Castro activist, before being fired. He also served as secretary of the New Orleans chapter of the group Fair Play for Cuba, a pro-Castro organization.
On August 16, 1963, while passing out flyers reading "Hands off Cuba!" (top), Oswald was arrested after he was engaged in a heated confrontation with several anti-Castro activists.
Bottom: Lee Harvey Oswald's "Fair Play for Cuba" card.
Lee Harvey OswaldFollowing his arrest Oswald was interviewed by radio and TV stations in New Orleans.
"I am not a Communist," Oswald told an interviewer for TV station WDSU in August 1963 (left). "I would definitely say that I was a Marxist. There is a great deal of difference."
Lee Harvey OswaldIn September 1963 Oswald visited Mexico City, where he attempted (unsuccessfully) to obtain visas from the Cuban Consulate and Soviet Embassy to travel back to the U.S.S.R. Documents released in the 1990s by the Congressionally-mandated Assassination Records Review Board revealed that, following Oswald's visit, someone impersonating Oswald (who was known to intelligence agencies for his Fair Play for Cuba work) had called the same diplomatic offices in Mexico City, resulting in a flurry of CIA station cables back to headquarters.
Despite objections from the CIA about blowing the cover of its surveillance operations in Mexico City, the Warren Commission published a photograph of a "mystery man" thought to have some connection to Oswald's visa requests. The man was never positively identified. However, in an interview with the FBI, Oswald's mother claimed she was shown a photo of the mystery man, which (after her son's death) she later took to be Jack Ruby.
After visiting Mexico City, Oswald moved back to Dallas.
Lee Harvey OswaldIn October 1963, at about the time his second daughter, Audrey, was born, Oswald began working at the Texas School Book Depository (left), located at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
On November 22, a motorcade carrying President John F. Kennedy and Texas Governor John B. Connally drove pass the building.
At 12:30 p.m. shots rang out.
Lee Harvey OswaldA view of Dealey Plaza from the Texas School Book Depository.
Three shots were heard as the limousine carrying Kennedy turned left from Houston Street onto Elm Street, past crowds lining the motorcade route.
Lee Harvey OswaldBoxes found stacked near the window, forming a sniper's nest, at a sixth floor window at the Texas School Book Depository.
Lee Harvey OswaldEvidence photo of the rifle found at the Texas School Book Depository.
Lee Harvey OswaldLeft: A photo taken at the site of the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit at Tenth and Patton.
Forty-five minutes after Kennedy was shot, Tippit stopped a man walking through the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, about 2.5 miles from Dealey Plaza. As he got out of his police car, Tippit was shot four times by a man later identified as Oswald.
Lee Harvey OswaldTippit's patrol car at the scene of his murder.
Lee Harvey OswaldPolice were called to the Texas Theater on account of a man who ran into the theater without paying. There, officers confronted Oswald, and he was arrested.
Lee Harvey OswaldOswald was later apprehended in the Texas Theater, where he tried to shoot at a police officer with a .38 caliber revolver (left). The weapon was later tied by ballistics to the shooting of Dallas Policeman J. D. Tippit.
Lee Harvey OswaldBooking photos of Lee Harvey Oswald, arrested for the murder of J.D. Tippit.
As he was ushered through a room crowded with reporters at Dallas Police Headquarters, Oswald complained that he had been given a hearing without a legal representative.
"I haven't been told what I am here for," he said. "I would like legal representation, but these police officers have not allowed me to have any. In fact, I don't know what this is all about."
Reporter: "Did you shoot the president?"
Oswald: "I didn't shoot anybody, no sir."
Lee Harvey OswaldLee Harvey Oswald's fingerprint card.
Lee Harvey OswaldLee Harvey Oswald is pictured with two unnamed Dallas Police officers.
Lee Harvey OswaldOn November 24, 1963, as Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred from his holding cell at police headquarters to the county jail, Jack Beers of the Dallas Morning News photographed the prisoner - just a split second before Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby rushed forward and fired a .38-caliber Colt Cobra revolver.
Watch: The Oswald snapshot
Lee Harvey OswaldIn a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, Bob Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald captured the moment Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
Dallas homicide detective Jim Leavelle (left, in white hat) guarded Oswald as he was being moved to the Dallas County Jail. In 2003 he told CBS News that when he saw Ruby take two sharp steps towards Oswald, "What went through my mind was I needed to save my prisoner, so I tried to pull him behind me. But in one second, you don't have much time to do that.
"He was too close to me and I couldn't move him. All I did was turn his body. When I turned his body, instead of the bullet hitting dead center in the stomach, it hit him about four inches to the left side of the naval.
"If it hadn't hit the seventh rib, it would've come on and hit me, but the rib slowed it down. He just groaned and slumped to the floor."
Leavelle rode in the ambulance with Oswald to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the accused assassin died in an operating room.
Lee Harvey OswaldDallas County District Attorney Henry Wade (left) conducts a press conference in the line-up room at Dallas Police Headquarters, November 25, 1963. Although Wade did not have the opportunity to bring Oswald to trial for the assassination of the president, he did oversee the prosecution of Jack Ruby in the shooting of JFK's accused killer.
Convicted and sentenced to death, Ruby was awaiting a retrial when he died in prison, of lung cancer, in 1967.
Lee Harvey OswaldRumors that Oswald had received aid or assistance in a conspiracy to kill the president ranged from elements of the far left to the far right, to criminal elements (the Mafia), to foreign governments (the Castro regime, the Soviet Union).
Doubts about the "lone gunman theory" led to the Warren Commission, whose findings in 1964 stated that there was no evidence "of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy," and that Oswald had acted alone in the November 22, 1963 shooting.
Left: The Warren Commission Report is presented to President Lyndon B. Johnson, Sept. 24, 1964. The Committee members, from left: John McCloy, general counsel J. Lee Rankin, Sen. Richard Russell, Rep. Gerald Ford, Chief Justice Earl Warren, former CIA Director Allen Dulles, Sen. John Sherman Cooper and Rep. Hale Boggs.
Lee Harvey OswaldNevertheless, theories about accomplices, or a government conspiracy or cover-up (hiding either complicity or a failure to uncover the plot in advance), became a cottage industry. It was also the basis of prosecution by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who tried (but failed to convict) New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw (left) as part of a wider conspiracy involving Oswald.
Garrison's investigation was recounted in Oliver Stone's 1991 film, "JFK," a technically-audacious fever dream of conspiracies and secret government complicity in the death of the president.
Lee Harvey OswaldTheories about possible accomplices of Oswald or government cover-ups gained new life following news of the Watergate conspiracy and revelations of CIA complicity in overthrowing or attempting to overthrow foreign regimes. In 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations began investigating the killings of JFK and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the attempted assassination of Ala. Gov. George Wallace.
Its report found, "on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy" (while discounting any foreign government's involvement). The Committee cited police recordings of gunshots which it said established a "high probability" that two gunmen fired at Kennedy - evidence that was later debunked by further scientific analysis.
Evidence uncovered by the Committee was to remain sealed for 50 years, until the year 2029.
Lee Harvey OswaldMarina Porter, widow of Lee Harvey Oswald, walks away from reporters after making a statement in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 20, 1992.
Marina (who had remarried) maintained that Oswald was not a guilty party in the death of the president.
Her statement about the assassination came one day after pathologists who performed the autopsy on President John F. Kennedy affirmed their original finding that Kennedy had been hit by two bullets, fired from above and behind.
Lee Harvey OswaldIn 1981 Oswald's remains were exhumed to put to rest theories that it was not actually Oswald who was buried in Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park in Fort Worth. After the body was positively identified through dental records, it was returned, in a new casket.
In December 2010 the original, water-damaged coffin was auctioned off to an anonymous bidder for $87,469.
Lee Harvey OswaldIn 1989 the Sixth Floor Museum was opened in the former Texas School Book Depository.
Left: Sandra Saldana, of San Antonio, and Samuel Goodman, of Rockville, Md., look at displays in the museum, November 10, 2003, in Dallas.
Lee Harvey OswaldIn 1998 - 35 years after the assassination - a CBS News poll found that 10 percent of Americans believed that Oswald acted alone, whereas 76 percent believed he did not. Nearly three-quarters of respondents also believed that there was an official government cover-up - and 77 percent said they believed the complete truth about the Kennedy assassination will never be known.
Left: A recent photograph captures the view from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository - now the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza - in Dallas, Texas.
For more info:
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, Dallas
John F Kennedy, Dallas Police Department Collection (University of North Texas)
President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection (National Archives)
Library of Congress
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan