I rang the bell of 1026 North Beckley Avenue in the afternoon of September 10, last month, while visiting Dallas. After a while a middle-aged woman looked through the glass. She wasn’t feeling well, but if I wanted to wait for 20 minutes, she was willing to dress up for a short interview. Great news: off course I wanted to talk with Patricia Puckett Hall (61). After all – it was her grandmother who rented a room to Lee Harvey Oswald in the last weeks of his life. Worth the wait.
by PERRY VERMEULEN
The house has been in Pat Hall’s family since about 1943. Her grandmother, Gladys Johnson, bought the north Oak Cliff property and for years ran a rooming house there. Her tenants included a certain O.H. Lee, who arrived on October 14, 1963, taking a room for $8 a week including refrigerator and living room privileges. After the assassination of JFK, Johnson soon learned the real name of the young man: Lee Harvey Oswald. Pat: “My grandmother must have liked him, for most renters didn’t have refrigerator access. I remember vividly how he played ball with my brothers in front of the house. Oswald was in my opinion a quiet, nice man.” Oswald stayed at the red brick house with white trim during the week while working his new job at the Texas School Book Depository, and on the weekends he returned to the suburb of Irving where his wife Marina lived with their children.
November 22, 1963
Oswald briefly returned to this house some 30 minutes after Kennedy was fatally shot in downtown Dallas. Johnson’s housekeeper Earlene Roberts told the Warren Commission that Oswald hurriedly entered, grabbed a jacket and a gun and headed back out into the neighborhood. Soon after, Oswald fatally shot Officer J.D. Tippit, then was arrested at the Texas Theatre. In the last 50 years, many theories have been put forward on the exact movements of Oswald. “Off course I have my own thoughts on that day, but I usually don’t get into that too much. Was Oswald involved in some kind of conspiracy? You won’t hear me on that in public. But I have discussed the matter often with various people, unlike my grandmother, who rarely spoke about the tragedy. By the way, this house would have never been of any significance to history, if she had known of the gun. She hated weapons and would have never allowed them in the house.”
After Oswalds brief visit to this room
Pat Hall revealed some of her thoughts to me, on what happend after 1 pm.
- Housekeeper Earlene Roberts testified before the Warren Commission that she heard a car horn sound while Oswald was in his room, looked out the front window, and saw a Dallas police car move off, easing around the corner from Beckley onto Zangs Boulevard. Many researchers already searched for answers: why did the cop honk the horn? Pat: “I think the answer is simple. There is a traffic light right in front on the rooming house. I think the cop honked to alert a slow driver in front of him. A logical explanation, right?”
- After leaving the rooming house, Oswald stood at the bus stop next to the traffic light. Earlene Roberts later said this was the last time she saw him. Strange detail: the northbound bus would take him straight back downtown. Pat: “He stood there for a few moments and after that he started walking south. On Beckley Avenue, according to all sources, but I think he may just as well have taken Crawford Street, behind my house. In fact, it doesn’t really matter. Both streets lead to the scene where officer Tippit was killed, around 1:16 pm.”
- Did Oswald have enough time to reach that location, after leaving his rooming house at 1:03 pm? “Oh yes, he did. Many people have tried to walk the same 0.8 miles within 13 minutes. You don’t even have to run: just walk with a quick pass.” Off course I tried it myself. Yes – you can walk the distance within the given time.
- “I think the encounter of Oswald and Tippit had nothing to do with the assassination of Kennedy”, Pat continued. “Tippit was in the neighbourhood because of a reported burglary. Oswald acted suspicious in his eyes, gazing around, looking terrified. Maybe Tippit thought he caught the burglar, when he stopped his car near the intersection of Tenth Street and Patton Avenue. Moments later, Tippit was dead and Oswald fled to the theater.”
- Pat’s mother, Fay Puckett, who died in 2008, had a photography studio on Jefferson Avenue, just across the Texas Theatre. “She was working in her studio when she looked out the window and saw Dallas police escorting a screaming, handcuffed Oswald from the theatre across the street. She recognized him as one of her mother’s tenants. She closed her shop, picked us up from school and unplugged the tv at home. It was only on sunday that we learned who the killer of Kennedy was: our Mr. Lee. We saw live how he was shot by Jack Ruby. Did you, by the way, know that both my mother and my grandmother received death threats and hate mail after the assassination? I guess people where looking for scapegoats. A sad story.”
The house can be yours
Recently Pat decided to sell the house that has been in her family for more than seventy years — as long as a buyer wants to preserve it and offers the right price. All inquiries are led through a website, theoswaldhouse.com. “I have been considering selling the house for years, but now the time is right, as this year marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. With the historical event in the forefront of people’s mind, I hope the timing helps get the best price possible. I’m selling history here.” The house is priced $ 500,000. Pat is hoping for a buyer that will turn the place into a museum, or maybe a bed and breakfast.
Step back in time
You can, when asking politely, still visit his room. Nothing seems to have been changed since 1963: the bed is definitely Oswald’s. In this May 15, 2013 photo, Patricia Hall holds a photograph of her grandmother, Gladys Johnson, while standing in the 5-by-14 room that Lee Harvey Oswald rented in 1963 at her family’s boarding house in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)