Me & Lee: How I came to know, love and lose Lee Harvey Oswald
Judyth Vary Baker (2010 Trine Day)
Me and Lee is a memoir by the only surviving member of a top secret New Orleans research team (described at length in Ed Haslam’s 2007 Dr Mary’s Monkey) which attempted, in 1963, to develop a biologic warfare agent to assassinate Castro. Baker’s memoir has a forward by Haslam (see * below) and an afterward by longtime assassination researcher Jim Marrs. It’s extensively footnoted and cross referenced with photos, news clippings and other documents from Baker’s personal records, Warren Commission testimony, and other records from the JFK archives.
A science prodigy, Judyth Vary Baker was only nineteen when she joined this biological warfare project. Baker arrives in New Orleans in the summer of 1963 believing she will be doing research on a cancer vaccine. Instead she finds herself assisting Dr Mary Sherman and CIA pilot David Ferrie in trying to create a cancer-causing virus. Her job is to harvest fifty or so mice every week which have been injected with SV-40 viruses mutated by exposure to radiation. She then grinds up the most aggressive tumors, extracts the viruses and delivers them to Dr Sherman’s lab to be re-exposed to high intensity radiation.
Baker’s Relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald is assigned to serve as her escort, riding the bus to and from work with her. They eventually become lovers. In addition to her lab research, Ochsner asks her to take a cover job at the Reily Coffee Company, where her immediate boss is a former FBI agent involved with the anti-Castro movement. Baker’s cover at the coffee company is that of secretary, though her main role is to ensure that Oswald, who also has a cover job at Reily’s, gets his time card clocked in and out when the CIA or FBI sends him on other assignments.
Although Baker knows that Oswald gets paychecks from both the FBI and CIA, she’s never totally clear what his assignment is. He seems to be a kind of errand boy, both for the CIA and the Mafia. Oswald has relatives with the Mob and introduces Baker to New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. The Mafia has lost lucrative Cuban casinos in the revolution and is an eager participant in various conspiracies to get rid of Castro. Oswald also introduces her to Jacob “Sparky” Rubenstein (also known as “Jack Ruby”), whom Oswald has known from childhood.
Inside the Head of Lee Harvey Oswald
As Baker portrays him, Oswald comes across as an immature, bookish geek who loves James Bond spy thrillers and frequently quotes from obscure literary works. According to Baker, his strong views on civil rights frequently led him to sit in the rear, the colored section of buses.
Baker reveals he was fully aware his CIA handlers didn’t trust him following his return from the Soviet Union. Apparently fake defectors are never fully trusted, owing to the possibility they might have became double agents. According to Oswald, this pattern of being assigned a number of minor, unrelated tasks without being clear who he was working for was typical for agents suspected of being “dangles” (double agents).
One assignment Baker was aware of involved a shipment of weapons Oswald smuggled into New Orleans for the anti-Castro Cubans the CIA was training as paramilitaries. In another, he posed as a pro-Castro member of Fair Trade for Cuba to collect names of Castro sympathizers to turn over to the FBI.
Ochsner Fires Baker
By mid-1963 Sherman, Ferrie and Baker succeed in isolating a tumor virus capable of producing “galloping” cancer in mice. In August 1963, Clay Shaw (the CIA co-sonspirator Jim Garrison prosecuted in 1967 for his involvement in the JFK assassination), Oswald and Ferrie transport the virus to the East Louisiana State Mental Hospital, where they inject it into a “volunteer” from the Angola Penitentiary. Baker is initially told the inmate already suffers from terminal cancer
She learns she’s been lied to and sends an angry memo informing Ochsner that involuntary experimentation on human subjects is unethical. He immediately terminates her employment and forbids her, on pain of death, from any further contact with Oswald. Although Baker returns to her husband in Florida, she and Oswald make plans to leave their respective spouses and elope to Mexico after Oswald smuggles the fatal virus into Cuba.
Oswald Realizes He is Being Set Up
Oswald, meanwhile learns that his assignment is changed, that he is only to transport the virus to Mexico City and hand it off to a second courier. When his contact fails to show in Mexico City, he makes an unsuccessful attempt to get a Cuban visa to deliver the virus himself, which is denied. He becomes genuinely concerned about his own safety – the information he possesses makes him a clear liability to his CIA handlers unless they have a specific use for him. He tells Baker the CIA is trying to set him up to look like a pro-Castro agent in the plot against JFK.
Despite their promise to transfer him to Mexico City, his superiors order him to return to Dallas to spy on “right wing nuts” interested in killing Kennedy. He and Baker continue to maintain phone contact, using pay phones and a complex phone wheel to synchronize call scheduling.
On October 19th, Oswald is invited to join the assassination conspiracy – planned for three alternative locations – Miami (a right-wing informant blows the whistle on the Miami plot, which leads Kennedy’s motorcade to be called off), Chicago and Dallas. Oswald plays along, believing he can pass details of the conspiracy to trusted FBI agents who can foil the assassination.
In late October he makes an anonymous tip to the FBI about an assassination threat, and JFK’s November 2 visit to Chicago is canceled (records released under the 1992 JFK Records Collection act confirm this anonymous tip-off). On November 16, he tells Baker he has passed information regarding the Dallas assassination plot to an FBI contact. Oswald’s wife Marina later confirms this in a letter to the Chairman of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board. According to an FBI clerk Garrison interviewed during his investigation, the FBI contact telexed the information to the Dallas FBI field office, where it mysteriously vanished.
Validating Baker’s Story
Edward Haslam, author of Dr Mary’s Monkey, has exhaustively investigated Baker’s story and defends her for the following reasons:
1. He has confirmed her identity and her claims about doing cancer research in high school through the microfilm file at The Bradenton Herald, while employed there managing their market research.
2. He has sighted the W2 slip she provides for her period of employment at the Reily Coffee Company and confirms that they are genuine.
3. He has personally interviewed Anna Lewis, wife of CIA agent David Lewis, who worked with Oswald, Jack Martin and Guy Bannister in New Orleans’ anti-Castro movement. She confirms that Baker and Oswald were romantically involved in 1963.
* To protect her five children, Baker kept silent about her involvement with Oswald until her last child left home. When she broke her silence in 1998, her revelations provoked a firestorm of controversy, both from pro-conspiracy researchers and Warren Commission diehards, who accuse her of fabricating her story from the wealth of detail on the JFK assassination circulating on the Internet. For her own safety and sanity, she lives in exile (in an undisclosed location in Europe).
Judyth Vary Baker blogs at http://judythbaker.blogspot.com/