As the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination nears, in 2013, two out of three Americans still believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in murdering the president. Judyth Vary Baker, a onetime Florida housewife and mother of five now living "in exile" in the Netherlands, has her own version of the story, starting from her torrid love affair with Oswald in the summer of 1963.
Conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination range from the mysterious (shots from the grassy knoll) to the disturbing (LBJ fornicating with JFK's neck wound). Baker goes them all one better in Me & Lee: How I Came to Know, Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald (Eugene-based publisher TrineDay, 624 pages, $24.95). She says she shagged the Dealey Plaza gunman while the pair was in New Orleans secretly developing a cancer-causing bioweapon to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Skeptical minds will dismiss Baker, as author Vincent Bugliosi did in his exhaustive 2007 book, Reclaiming History. But readers who appreciate a good hoax will find her story a doozy—a fabulist concoction that falls somewhere in the shadow between the vaguely plausible and the remotely provable.
She takes it slow at first, recounting her years as a high-school whiz kid whose cancer research with lab mice wins science fairs and an internship. Soon the plucky Florida teenager is crashing a national cancer conference, rubbing elbows with top cancer scientists and being offered college scholarships.
Baker's achievements may sound embellished, but they're at least partly corroborated by local newspaper clippings, yearbook photos and letters, which are reprinted in the book. Then, her tone subtly shifts. As a newly engaged college student, she meets Oswald by chance in a New Orleans post office, and Baker begins recalling detailed conversations she had with a total stranger almost 50 years ago as the two embark on a summer of love and weird science.
The newspaper clippings give way to generic photos of Oswald (who she says was framed) and alleged co-conspirators like Carlos Marcello, Jack Ruby and David Ferrie. But, tellingly, none of the photos depicts Baker with any of these men or her new lover, Oswald.
This, ultimately, is the wrecking ball that demolishes Baker's fantasy world: Me & Lee produces no photos, no love letters, no credible proof whatever that Baker, as her book claims, ever knew, loved or lost Lee Harvey Oswald. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just a patsy.
GO: Judyth Vary Baker speaks in Room C120 of the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., on Monday, Nov. 12. 7:30 pm. Free.