FORT WORTH (CN) - A Texas funeral home must return the original casket of presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to his brother and pay the $87,000 that it brought at auction, a state judge ruled.
Robert Edward Lee Oswald, 80, of Wichita Fallas, sued Baumgardner Funeral Home, Allen Baumgardner Sr. and auction house Nate D. Sanders in Tarrant County Court in 2011.
Oswald said that the day after his brother was killed by Jack Ruby on live national television in Dallas, he bought a pine casket from Miller's Funeral Home in Tarrant County and paid for preparation of the body and a funeral . The funeral home was later purchased by Baumgardner.
The body was exhumed in 1981 after a conspiracy theorist launched "a legal and publicity campaign" claiming that a Russian agent, not Oswald's brother, was in the casket.
"It was discovered that the No. 31 Pine Bluff casket originally purchased by plaintiff had deteriorated," the complaint stated. "Authorities, including [Miller's director] Paul Groody, examined the body, conducted various tests, and confirmed that the body was indeed that of plaintiff's brother."
Lee Harvey Oswald's body was placed in a new casket and buried because the original casket was too damaged. Robert Oswald said he thought the casket was destroyed, but learned it was in the funeral home's possession after Groody died in 2010.
"According to sales literature on Sanders Inc.'s website ... Baumgardner and Baumgardner Inc. had stored numerous personal items relating to the burials of [the Oswalds' mother] Marguerite Oswald and plaintiff's brother," the complaint stated. "At no time during the intervening three decades since the exhumation of plaintiff's brother or burial of plaintiff's mother, did Baumgardner or Baumgardner Inc. inform plaintiff of their possession of any item incident to the burial of his family members."
Oswald said the coffin was listed for sale at $87,468; the "Lee Harvey Oswald Death Certificate" for $49,734; the "Lee Harvey Oswald Porcelain Embalming Table" for $2,507; the "Lot of Oswald Medical Instruments" for $4,037; and seven other lots, for a total list price of $161,336.
Oswald sued several weeks after the casket was sold at auction to an unidentified buyer for the asking price. The property has been held in trust pending outcome of the lawsuit.
Tarrant County Judge Donald Cosby ruled on Friday that the casket belongs to Oswald, and that Baumgardner "concealed" from him the existence of the casket.
Cosby said the defendants "wrongfully exercised dominion and control" over the property, resulting in injury to Oswald.
"Baumgardner knew that Groody did not have the right or authority to allow Baumgarder to keep the 1963 casket," according to the 11-page Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law. "Baumgardner made no effort to inform anyone of his possession of the 1963 casket because Baumgardner did not want anyone to know that he was wrongfully withholding the 1963 casket."
Cosby said Baumgardner has provided "no evidence" that he owns the casket, claiming only that no person has made an adverse claim on the casket for 30 years.
The funeral home must pay to ship the casket back to Oswald and must pay the auction house more than $11,000 for costs, Cosby ruled .
Oswald's attorney, Gant Grimes in Wichita Falls, told The New York Times his client is "pleased with the outcome." He said Oswald will probably have the coffin destroyed "as soon as possible."
Baumgardner's attorney, Brett Myers in Dallas, told the Times his client wants to reach an agreement with Oswald to stop the coffin's destruction pending appeal.
"In my mind, they did not act maliciously," Myers said. "They're not those kind of people."
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