[Photo: Michael and Ruth Paine at Dallas Police Headquarters on the afternoon of November 22, 1963]
We continue our summary of Michael Paine’s testimony to the Warren Commission (WC). During the period from October through November 1963, the closest political companion of Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO) was Michael Paine.
The WC attorneys were eager to discover any connection between the politics of Michael Paine and the politics of LHO. LHO was branded by the Radical Right-wing in Dallas as a Marxist, a defector, and sympathizer with Communist Cuba. The WC attorneys took all this for granted. They did not (as Jim Garrison would three years later) investigate any deeper into LHO’s strange business in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) that he secretly pursued during the spring and summer of 1963. They would have found – as NOLA District Attorney Jim Garrison found, that the Marxist credentials of LHO were bogus.
Notwithstanding Garrison, the politics among even moderate conservatives in Dallas was to regard LHO as a Marxist quasi-Communist, period. Open to suspicion, therefore, were Michael and Ruth Paine. Could the Paines be the next Rosenbergs? Ruth Paine mainly helped to care for Marina Oswald and three small children when Marina was eight months pregnant, when LHO was out of work, nearly out of savings, and had no health insurance. So, Ruth might be excused in the minds of the majority.
That leaves Michael Paine. Less liberal conservatives in America demanded that Michael be placed under a microscope in order to seek out the Communist plot that General Walker had proclaimed was behind the JFK Assassination. Michael was from a millionaire family on the East Coast – he had attended Harvard. These factors made him suspicious in the eyes of the John Birch Society and other Southerners who regarded everybody from the East Coast a Communist – or at least a Damn Yankee.
Michael’s father, oddly, was a devoted follower of Trotsky-style Communism out in in Los Angeles, California. But Michael wasn’t raised by his father – his mother had divorced him early as she married Michael’s step-father – the man who fathered Michael to go to Harvard to become a successful engineer.
When Michael was in high school in 1945, however, he asked his mother to use his summer vacation to visit his biological father in Los Angeles. She agreed. His biological father was also independently wealthy and owned a large house in California. He used his house to host endless meetings of Marxists from all over the world – just to have debates and share ideas.
Young Michael was already well-read. He spoke little and listened much. That summer of 1945, Michael Paine learned a lot about global Communism, and he saw its weaknesses close-up. He saw dozens of factions, all attacking each other. Michael saw fierce group loyalty, for example, and strident group organization. There were no individualists – all were group-oriented – to the death. After that summer, Michael returned home to finish high-school and he never spent a vacation with his father again. Marxism was boring, he concluded as he sallied forth to Harvard.
Michael had learned several facts about Communism that he couldn’t share with LHO although he tried, because LHO was frankly ignorant about the facts. Michael often had to keep himself from laughing. The reason for LHO’s ignorance was that LHO never joined a Marxist group. Ever. But nobody who remains entirely on his own can properly understand Marxism. So, LHO was clearly a poser, as Michael Paine rightly surmised.
Yet Michael Paine in 1963 did not suspect LHO as being a deliberate phony – a radical Rightist posing as a radical Leftist (as Jim Garrison would reveal in 1968). Michael Paine was fooled by LHO’s pretense, and this was one more reason that LHO looked down upon Michael and Ruth Paine. Fooled by LHO’s farce as a Left-wing radical, Michael Paine patronized LHO in more ways than one. LHO was merely a naïve country boy, thought Michael, who pretended to know more than he really did. LHO only needed more time to explore more alternatives, thought Michael, so that he could get a decent job, buy a car, and move to the center field in politics. Michael expected LHO to see reason one day.
Michael Paine had seen the restrained Marine – a trained, steady stoic side in LHO – yet Michael never grasped how this allegedly naïve ex-Marine had taught himself to speak and read Russian by the time he was 19. That was a rare talent, and even the well-bred Michael Paine had not accomplished anything so dramatic. Michael’s wife, also from a wealthy, well-educated family, had tried for many years to learn Russian throughout college – and she was still turned down by Russian tutors because her conversational skills were so poor. LHO, by contrast, spoke conversational Russian with well-known ease.
LHO was fooling everyone in the Paine circle – including Marina.
There is one crucial fact that the WC attorneys never guessed about LHO – partly because Michael Paine held back some facts. Yet Michael Paine was also certain that if he told all he knew about LHO, that Dallas would descend upon him as an accomplice of LHO in the JFK Assassination. So, Michael Paine held back a crucial fact that he would 30 years later tell Dan Rather and Gus Russo, namely, that during his half-hour discussion with LHO on April 2, 1963, LHO proudly showed Michael a copy of his Backyard Photograph.
This was the photograph made famous by LIFE Magazine in 1964 – the one with LHO brandishing his rifle, his pistol, and two Marxist newspapers. Michael had never seen anything so bizarre. Clearly, LHO was part of no group whatever! No genuine Marxist would ever pose as such an individualist buffoon! Nevertheless, and more importantly, Michael’s knowledge about this strange photograph gave Michael a clear knowledge that LHO either had his own weapons or had easy access to weapons.
Yet maybe Michael had already told all this to the WC attorneys, and maybe it was the WC attorneys who decided that this could never come to the public eye. It would be like telling the US public that LHO had Marxist accomplices, and that Michael Paine was foremost among them. Yet the agenda of the WC attorneys was to insist that LHO had no accomplices – either of the Left or the Right – but was strictly the Lone Shooter of JFK – the Lone Nut.
General Walker proclaimed that the Communists had killed JFK, and that the US should attack Cuba immediately. It was up to the WC attorneys to debunk Walker’s politics and guide the investigation closer to the prior findings of the US State Department and the FBI and by their clear knowledge that the Communists had nothing to do with the JFK Assassination.
That is where we now stand. At this point we resume our summary of the WC questioning of Michael Paine. The WC attorneys had now moved to the morning of the assassination, to establish what Michael was thinking only minutes before the JFK Assassination.
Mr. LIEBELER: Mr. Paine, would you give us the nature of the conversation you were having [with David Noel at the bowling alley cafeteria] concerning assassination, prior to the [JFK] assassination?
Mr. PAINE: …There was some anxiety about the President coming to Dallas-Fort Worth …It had been expected, of course, that trouble would come from the right-wing… The number of anti-Kennedy jokes cracked was quite large in Texas. So, I was wondering, what kind of a person would kill a President? David Noel mainly listened. I certainly didn’t think of Lee Oswald! I didn’t expect it from…that end of the [political] spectrum.
There we have a portrait of the mind of Michael Paine on the morning of November 22, 1963. He had seen the strange WANTED posters all over Dallas, accusing JFK of treason. Michael had seen the strange full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News, calling JFK “Mister Kennedy” instead of President Kennedy and accusing JFK of conspiring with Russia. These factors – in addition to the “number of anti-Kennedy jokes cracked” in Dallas were disturbing to the handful of young liberals there.
So, during lunch that day, he spoke with college student David Noel about this worry that the radical Right-wing in Dallas might kill JFK. “What kind of a person would kill a President?” That is, what kind of a Right-wing wacko might kill JFK? Michael never dreamed that the Left-wing would kill JFK. And so, having been fooled by LHO’s pretense of being Left-wing, Michael “certainly didn’t think of Lee Oswald” in connection with the very real possibility that JFK might be killed in Dallas.
As events transpired, however, Michael first thought of LHO in connection with the JFK assassination as soon as he heard the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) reported on the radio news as the location where the shot was fired from. Michael realized, “Hey, LHO works there!” Michael instantly asked himself – could LHO be the shooter? No, concluded Michael. Because it was insane to kill JFK, and whatever else LHO was, he wasn’t insane.
So, Michael tried to force the idea out of his mind, although he told Frank Kristinik, his co-worker at Bell Labs. Frank urged Michael repeatedly to call the FBI and tell them about LHO. Michael thought deeply about it, again and again – but he felt sure that LHO was innocent, because no Leftist would want to see JFK killed. Besides, if LHO were made a suspect, the fact that he had been a defector to Russia would make him an easy scapegoat. No, LHO had told Michael about his fervent feelings in favor of liberal causes – and so the assassination of a liberal like JFK made no sense. There was no motive.
So, Michael would not call the FBI.
Only 45 minutes after the JFK slaying, however, the radio news announced the murder of Office J.D. Tippit. It was a crazy day in Dallas. After another 45 minutes, however, the name of Lee Harvey Oswald was broadcast to the world! LHO had been captured in a movie theater as a suspect in the Tippit slaying.
That was overwhelming for Michael – Michael suddenly became certain that LHO was JFK’s assassin.
No radio newsroom had yet connected LHO with the JFK Assassination. But Michael connected the TSDB factor and LHO’s arrest in the Tippit slaying. Michael was among the first to suspect LHO of a connection to the JFK murder. Michael’s hands began to shake and sweat.
Should he call the FBI now? No, because the FBI already knew that LHO had worked in the TSBD, since Ruth had already told them weeks ago. In fact, Michael was certain that that FBI was already descending down upon Ruth’s home right now. So, Michael quit work for the day, and sped over to Ruth’s house as quickly as he could.
On the radio to Ruth’s house, Michael heard only eulogies for JFK. It seemed to him that he was the only one to suspect LHO as somehow connected to one of the most shocking assassinations of the 20th century.
On the ride over he kept asking himself, “Could he? Could he?” Yet he could see no motive. There was no motive even for a Marxist wannabe to kill JFK! Michael shivered with cold sweats.
Sometime around 3pm, Michael arrived at Ruth’s house. The Dallas Police were indeed already there, swarming over every room in her house, collecting evidence of any sort. Ruth, Marina, and the children could only watch, bewildered. Ruth asked Michael, “Why are you here?” Michael replied, “I came right home as soon as I heard Lee Oswald mentioned.”
Ruth told Michael that most of the police were in the garage searching for evidence. Michael stood at the inside doorway to the garage and watched passively. Ruth moved further inside the garage to observe what the police were collecting as evidence. Everything, it seemed.
Michael could see the blanket on the floor in its usual place under his band saw. A plainclothes detective wearing a black hat kicked the blanket and asked Michael, “Did you know what was in this?” Michael answered, “No”. The detective asked, “Do you think it could have been a rifle?” Michael replied, “Yes, it could have been.” The detective had asked, surmised Michael, because Marina must have said something to them. For the first time, he claimed, the true contents of that wrapped blanket tied at both ends with string finally dawned on Michael.
As the Dallas Police kept boxing objects to take to their paddy wagons, they left the blanket on the floor.
Whenever Michael and Ruth offered to help, the detective became angry! Whenever Michael and Ruth would say, “Those are only our music files – you don’t need that,” they would double their men to take them all.
The detective was irked at Michael and Ruth for “wasting their time.” Ruth was irked at the procedure. Everybody was irked by something. The detective told them to prepare to go to the Dallas Police Station downtown. Ruth arranged for a babysitter, and the adults and Marina’s babies all got into police cars and went downtown.
This is where things become complicated.
THE CONTROVERSIAL PHONE CALL
The WC attorneys broached a new topic. Ruth Paine’s telephone had been bugged by persons unknown before November 22nd. Unknown persons reported to the Dallas Police that Michael Paine called Ruth Paine on Saturday, November 23rd, and told her, “We both know who is responsible for the assassination.”
That’s quite serious. If confirmed, it could make Michael and Ruth Paine into accomplices in the JFK Assassination. The WC attorneys took direct aim at this question. Let’s read this part.
Mr. LIEBELER: Now, there has been a report that on November 23, 1963, there was a telephone call between a man and a woman, between the numbers of your residence and the number of your office, in which the man was reported to have said in words or substance, “We both know who is responsible for the assassination.” Have you been asked about this before?
Mr. PAINE: I had heard that – I didn’t know it was associated with our numbers. I had heard a report that some telephone operator had listened in on a conversation somewhere, I don’t know where it was. I thought it was some other part of the country.
Mr. LIEBELER: Did you talk to your wife on the telephone at any time during Saturday, November 23, on the telephone?
Mr. PAINE: I was in the police station again, and I think I called her from there.
Mr. LIEBELER: Did you make any remark to the effect that you knew who was responsible?
Mr. PAINE: And I don’t know who the assassin is or was; no, so I did not.
Mr. LIEBELER: You are positive in your recollection that you made no such remark?
Mr. PAINE: Yes.
Although Michael admitted that he made a phone call to Ruth on that day, he categorically denied that he ever knew who the assassin was. The WC attorney phrased the question to get at the main issue – was Michael Paine a Communist operative working with LHO to kill JFK?
That was a charge that the followers of Ex-General Walker were making in their incessant insistence that the Communists had killed JFK. Castro did it! Khrushchev did it! LHO, Marina, Ruth, and Michael Paine were all part of a Communist plot! They should all be executed as traitors, like the Rosenbergs!
Michael suspected all this, so he flatly shut that down. Yet for over 50 years, writers have speculated that Michael was not telling everything he knew about that call. I could not contact Michael Paine to ask for clarity, but Ruth Paine kindly agreed to speak with me over the telephone. I asked her for clarity – and her answer is relevant at this point in our summary of Michael Paine’s WC testimony, so I’ll include it here in summary form.
Here’s what Ruth Paine told me. She and Michael were both stunned by the hate literature over JFK that circulated in Dallas that day. There were two items especially that bothered them: the handbills that began, “WANTED FOR TREASON JFK,” and the full-page advertisement in the Dallas Morning News that started, “WELCOME MISTER KENNEDY, TO DALLAS” a