Welcome back for a Freaky Friday here at Lawyers and Liquor, once again brought to you by Quack Quack Honk Designs! We’ve been decomposing in the cemetery of the internet for a while, so I’m going to spend very little time on the lead in this month and just let you know that this time, we’re back for good! I have a backlog of articles, and the site is now back and running at full tilt with your host, the Boozy Barrister, back at the helm having finally found a happy medium between running around and staying up until four in the damn morning to work on an update. But first, go check out our sponsor, Quack Quack Honk Designs, who has waited months for the next time I would sit down and get going.
Now, as you may or may not recall, Freaky Friday is when we open up the crypt doors and talk about the more macabre aspects of law and specific legal cases. Everything that would get your case file possessed by a demon chanting “Billables by the tenth of an hour” is fair game for coverage here, and in the past we’ve covered instances like bone snatchers, haunted houses, the real estate of the damned, and funeral home ghouls. But what happens once the body is in the ground and someone decides that there’s a profit to be made from disinterring the final resting place of the infamous?
No, we’re not going to rehash some weird shit about Burke and Hare. That’s been done to death more than once on various blogs, news articles, etc. We’re not even going to talk about body snatching in general. No, we’re flipping the phantasmagorical script this month to talk about what happens when instead of a body, someone steals the casket.
Specifically, the casket of Lee Harvey Oswald, less-than-beloved presidential assassin.
THE STORY THUS FAR
On November 22, 1963 Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy or at least that’s what the government wants you to think. Whether it was really Oswald or not the world may never know, because shortly thereafter in the morning of November 24, 1963 the alleged assassin was, in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, shot and killed by a strip club owner known as Jack Ruby. Whatever secrets Oswald carried with him, be it of the Mob, the CIA, the military, or space aliens wiring instructions directly into his brain, died with him on that concrete floor under the flashbulbs of reporters and the lighting of television cameras. Within hours of Oswald buying a plot with his new-found infamy, his older brother performed an act of family duty and cut a check for $710.00 to pay for his brother’s funeral – in fact paying for a cheap suit, some flowers, a burial vault, and a No. 31 Pine Bluff Coffin (the choice of gunned down assassins of the nation’s beacons of hope for centuries).
Time must have been of the essence, because 24 hours later, on November 25, 1963 Lee Harvey was laid to rest with merely an audience of five family members at his graveside and pallbearers haphazardly chosen from the throng of reporters in attendance for the burial. A swift and ignoble end for a life that’s one notable incident was a tragedy for a nation in mourning. As the nation struggled and cried, Lee Harvey Oswald would lie there, undisturbed and generally unmourned. The end.
Except it fucking wasn’t because you assholes out there refuse to actually accept the facts of multiple investigations and insist that Oswald was a scapegoat for some massive goddamn conspiracy, don’t you?
In 1981 the hysteria and questions regarding the assassination of President Kennedy were still at a fever pitch, and among the more vocal braying jackasses leading the pack of profiteering pissants from tragedy with half-baked theories and conspiracy books was British writer named Michael Eddowes, who refused to accept the corpse which had laid under the Texas dirt for nigh on 18 years was actually Lee Harvey Oswald and instead declared it must have been a Soviet spy that was laid to rest in the place of Oswald. And so, as the fervor was whipped into a high grade fuckstorm of conspiracy, Oswald’s widow joined in the call for an exhumation of her husband’s body – not to support the conspiracy theories but to lay them to rest – and after a short legal battle with his brother, Robert Oswald, the exhumation was ordered by a Texas court and followed through with.
The testing, by the way, found that the body was, indeed, Lee Harvey Oswald and nobody ever questioned who killed Kennedy again.
But that’s not the point of this story. Because after Lee Harvey was exhumed, it was discovered that the good old Number 31 Pine Bluff casket simply didn’t hold up too well. In fact, it could easily be referred to as “fucking falling to pieces.” So the corpse was reinterred in some fresh new digs and the old casket carted away as trash – much like the former occupant. At least, it was to the best of Robert Oswald’s knowledge.
“IT BELONGS IN A MUSUEM – OR AN AUCTION HOUSE!”
But unknown to Robert Oswald, the initial purchaser of the casket, Baumgardner and Baumgardner Funeral Home – which had handled the disinterment – recognized the …um… historical value of a presidential assassin’s casket and squirreled it away in their back room. There it remained for roughly twenty-nine years, just waiting for the proper moment to burst back onto the scene of historical relevancy. And come that moment did, following a couple of profitable sales of Lee Harvey Oswald memorabilia such as his first (cancelled) death certificate and the autopsy table where a coroner stated Lee Harvey was, as from the gunshot wound, “otherwise … a physically healthy male.” It was then that Baumgardner and Baumgardner determined the casket would be better off in the hands of a private collector, and shipped it off to Nate D. Jones, Inc. for a sale to be held in December of 2010…a sale that made the papers nationwide, including the hometown paper of one Robert Oswald who, in the grand tradition of big brothers everywhere, definitely wanted that shit he lent his little brother back.
Robert Oswald then immediately, and I fucking mean immediately sought to block the sale of this dubiously distinct piece of tasteless Americana by filing an action in Dallas courts stating, very bluntly, that his brother was a murderer and not only that since Robert Oswald had actually purchased the coffin way back in 1963 it was not something that could be sold without his permission. Unfortunately, this action came after the sale was completed, with the coffin selling for $87,468.00 first to an unknown buyer.
By the way, if you’ve ever wondered what the exact cost of “good taste” is, it’s apparently exactly $87,468.01. They were so fucking close.
Typically at this point the whole matter would be down to trying to retrieve the asset, in this case one deteriorating coffin of a presidential assassin, from the new buyer. However, as the coffin hadn’t yet been delivered to its new owner, who I suspect is the same type of person that buys all those “serial killer art pieces” you hear about online, Robert Oswald took the different tack of seeking to reverse and block the sale right then and there, despite the consummation of the transaction. His claim, in essence, boiled down to “I paid for it, he was my brother, it’s my coffin now, and you assholes should just let my family’s shame die in peace and not be some horseshit collector’s item for weirdos that jerk off to the Ted Bundy Tapes or some shit.” Like, no shit, that was basically his whole position. However, Robert Oswald hadn’t counted on the funeral home’s defense of “WELL IT WAS A GIFT TO YOUR DEAD BROTHER AND THEREFORE ONLY HIS WIDOW OR KIDS (who had by that point been very clear they wanted nothing to do with the Oswald legacy) CAN SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THIS!”
Want to guess how far they got?
BAD FUNERAL DIRECTOR, NO PAYDAY.
The case eventually found its way into the courtroom of Judge Donald J. Cosby in 2014, and a trial was held on the matter –three years after it was filed in 2011 – to determine the ownership of what we could fairly call Lee Harvey Oswald’s last rental property. At the end of the trial, the Court determined that the funeral home had willfully concealed and maliciously sought to conceal the casket for profit. In essence, they held onto it until they were pretty sure anyone who would raise an objection was dead or disinterested, then sold it. The Court ordered the return of the casket to Robert Oswald, as well as every single penny of the sales price to be turned over to Robert Oswald as damages.
So if you’re wondering what the price of poetic justice is, it’s apparently $87,468.00.
Additionally, the funeral home was ordered to pay the cost of storage and transport of the coffin to Robert Oswald and to bear all costs of reimbursing the auction house, which had relied on the funeral home’s provenance in selling the casket.
So, you know, don’t steal caskets, kids.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COFFIN?
Who knows? It ended up going to Robert Oswald, who had no interest in talking about or preserving anything to do with his brother. His attorney, shortly after the 2015 order, stated that the coffin would be “destroyed as soon as possible,” and that’s likely what happened. But we’ll never really know, because Robert Oswald followed his brother into the afterlife in 2017 – likely to kick his ass for all eternity at that point. Maybe the Russians have it. Who fucking knows?
But probably safe to assume it was destroyed.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
And so ends another Freaky Friday here on Lawyers and Liquor. Remember to drop in and visit our sponsor for this month, Quack Quack Honk Designs, and I’ll be back on Monday with more of the off-color legal shit you love so much.
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