The wood coffin that held the body of Lee Harvey Oswald belongs to his brother and not a Fort Worth funeral home that sought to sell it for more than $87,000, a Texas judge ruled Friday.
Judge Donald J. Cosby of District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, found that the Baumgardner Funeral Home and its owner, Allen S. Baumgardner Sr., had engaged in “wrongful and wanton and malicious conduct” by concealing the existence of the coffin from Oswald’s older brother, Robert, and by putting it up for sale years later through a Los Angeles auction house.
Robert Oswald, of Wichita Falls, Texas, sued to reclaim the coffin after learning that the Nate D. Sanders auction house had sold it to an undisclosed bidder on the funeral home’s behalf for $87,468. The 2010 sale was halted after Robert Oswald filed suit, and the coffin has remained in storage at the auction house.
The coffin was the one Lee Harvey Oswald was buried in after killing President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. The body was exhumed in 1981 to dispel conspiracy rumors that a Soviet agent had been buried instead of Oswald. The coffin had deteriorated so badly that Oswald was reburied in a new coffin and the original was taken to the Fort Worth funeral home.
In addition to ordering the first coffin returned to Robert Oswald, Cosby ordered Baumgardner and the funeral home to pay him an amount equal to the sale price – $87,468 – in damages. The funeral home was also ordered to pay $10,771 in storage fees to the auction house and $611 in travel expenses as well as any additional storage fees at the rate of $215 a month.
“The judge did not think much of their case,” said Robert Oswald’s lawyer, Gant Grimes of Wichita Falls, describing his client as “pleased with the outcome.” Robert Oswald, now 80, will probably have the coffin destroyed “as soon as possible,” Grimes said.
“He thought the thing was destroyed in 1981,” he added.
Cosby said the coffin was placed in a hearse and taken to the funeral home after the 1981 exhumation without Robert Oswald’s knowledge. Baumgardner “intentionally” did not reveal he had it because he recognized its value and “the financial windfall” a sale would bring, the judge said.
Baumgardner’s lawyer, Brett Myers of Dallas, said the funeral home owner wanted to reach “some kind of agreement” with Robert Oswald to block the destruction while considering whether to appeal. Myers said he also disagreed with the judge’s characterization of his client. “In my mind, they did not act maliciously,” he said. “They’re not those kind of people.”