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Lee Harvey Oswald's coffin seeks a final resting place

A Brentwood auctioneer is selling it and other artifacts from JFK's assassin.

December 05, 2010|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times

Brentwood residents won't guess what auctioneer Nate D. Sanders has dug up.

"It's Lee Harvey Oswald's coffin," Laura Yntema, one of Sanders' managers, explained at his auction house tucked behind a row of Barrington Avenue apartment units.

A funeral home owner in Fort Worth has hired Sanders to sell the pine box that President John F. Kennedy's assassin was buried in after being shot to death Nov. 24, 1963, by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

The first draft of Oswald's death certificate is for sale too. It was redone after the justice of the peace wrote "Shot by Jack Rubenstein" in the space listing "How Injury Occurred" and someone pointed out that Ruby had not yet been convicted of the killing.

Oswald's body was exhumed from Fort Worth's Rose Hill Memorial Park on Oct. 4, 1981, to resolve a dispute between his widow, Marina Oswald, and his brother, Robert Oswald. They had argued over a conspiracy theory that alleged that Kennedy's killer was actually a look-alike Russian agent who had taken Lee Harvey Oswald's place.

Dental records and other physical features proved that Oswald was indeed in the grave. But the coffin, damaged by water, was replaced with a new one before his remains were reburied.

Funeral home owner Allen Baumgardner, who had assisted in the original embalming of Oswald, kept the old casket, along with the erroneous death certificate and the 1963 funeral home log book. On Page 525 are the details of the original $573.50 mortuary fee and $135 cemetery plot. Oswald's coffin cost $300, and the leaky vault that enclosed it was $200.

Yntema, a former history major who wasn't born when Kennedy was murdered by Oswald, said the casket's likely buyer could be either a museum or a "serious collector of presidential memorabilia."

She suggested that the coffin, which contains shredded newspapers and other padding material left from its manufacture, could fetch as much as $100,000. Bids are being taken by phone and online; the auction ends at 5 p.m. Dec. 16. As of Friday, the highest bid was $15,000.

Sanders said he was shocked when Baumgardner asked him to sell the items.

"I've never had a coffin before," Sanders said. "I was skeptical at first, but then I saw it. It's the most unusual piece I've ever had."

Sanders has sold other JFK items — photographs of him and wife Jackie, handwritten letters and press releases issued by his White House. Several months ago he sold a copy of Kennedy's death certificate that Oswald's mother had obtained.

Those in the Barrington Avenue neighborhood were surprised to learn that Oswald's coffin was being stored behind their apartment homes. One resident noted that Brentwood is full of surprises.

"Maybe a couple of more bodies are stashed behind O.J.'s house down the street," quipped Dusty Hume, who works in financial services.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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