Me & Lee: How I Came to Know, Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswaldby Judyth Vary Baker
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Judyth Vary was once a promising science student who dreamed of finding a cure for cancer; this exposé is her account of how she strayed from a path of mainstream scholarship at the University of Florida to a life of espionage in New Orleans with Lee Harvey Oswald. In her narrative she offers extensive documentation on how she came to be a cancer expert at such a young age, the personalities who urged her to relocate to New Orleans, and what led to her involvement in the development of a biological weapon that Oswald was to smuggle into Cuba to eliminate Fidel Castro. Details on what she knew of Kennedy's impending assassination, her conversations with Oswald as late as two days before the killing, and her belief that Oswald was a deep-cover intelligence agent who was framed for an assassination he was actually trying to prevent, are also revealed.
“They thought they could frighten Judyth Vary Baker into silence. And for decades they succeeded. But it’s too late to shut her up now. She’s already blown the whistle! And she did it for her friend Lee Oswald. Judyth’s story is a dark odyssey of disease, murder, and betrayal, but it is one laced with innocence, hope, and love.” Edward T. Haslam, author, Dr. Mary’s Monkey
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Me & Lee
How I Came to Know, Love and Lose Lee Harvey Oswald
By Judyth Vary Baker
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2010 Judyth Vary Baker
All rights reserved.
Few people remember much of their lives before the age of five, but I certainly remember my fifth year clearly, since I nearly died. I got very sick: I had a fever and couldn't keep anything in my stomach. An intense pain developed in my abdomen, but my mother, the youngest in her own big family, had little experience with sick children. Busy hosting a family party that night at our home she simply had me curl up in bed, not realizing I had a ruptured appendix. There I was until about midnight when my grandfather decided to check in on me.
"My God!" he cried, "she's burning up!" My mother began to cry as she saw how sick I was. Grandpa scooped me up in his arms, hurried to his car and drove to us to the nearest hospital. It was cold outside, and he had my mother hold my head out the window to cool me down. The doctors later said that may have saved my life, but just barely. I was operated on immediately, but the situation was dire. My appendix had ruptured, and gangrene had spread everywhere. Massive amounts of penicillin and steroids were pumped into my body, along with blood transfusions. My family prayed. Father Rose, our family priest, came to administer Extreme Unction — the last rites.
They rolled me out of the operating room for the rites, then rolled me back in. Somehow, I made it through the night on the operating table, but there would be many more operations to come. Surgery after surgery, where they cut away infected tissues and even portions of my intestines. Peritonitis, gangrene, abscesses, bowel obstruction ... a hole developed in my stomach that allowed acids to leak into the upper portion of my torso. Unable to eat, I was fed by tubes snaked down my throat. Tubes were also in my arms, to add fluids, while tubes in my belly and abdomen drained fluids away. There is no describing the pain and helplessness I felt. I would gaze at a picture of the Virgin Mary hanging on the wall and try to deal with it. The nuns of Notre Dame had brought the picture in, and learning that I begged for Holy Communion, though I was only five, priests came and celebrated Communion with me for months. It was there that I learned to pray.
Most of the time, I was totally dependent upon the care of the nursing staff for my daily needs. Catholic nuns sat at my bedside and prayed aloud. They called me their "Little Angel" and asked God to keep me alive. I needed so many transfusions that the hospital ran out of my blood type. My family was so desperate they recruited my Uncle Leo, who was considered the black sheep of the family because he had swindled half a million dollars from his own mother. But he had Type O blood in his veins, and I needed it in mine. My situation was so urgent that the transfusion was done directly, arm-to-arm. I guess one could say that Uncle Leo saved my life but, ironically, I never saw him again.
By the time the ordeal was over, I had spent a year and a half in the Pawating Hospital on St. Joseph's Avenue in Niles, Michigan. It was a dreadful experience for a young child. I remember thinking it would never end. But God delivered me from it, or so I was told.
I had missed nearly two years of school. My abdomen was scarred inside and out. I lived with abdominal pain so intense they finally operated on me again when I was ten to remove the adhesions caused by the earlier surgeries. Complications from the experience, such as extreme nearsightedness and a chronic problem with swallowing, have plagued me for the rest of my life. Eventually, I was told that due to all of the infections, abdominal surgeries and scarring, the doctors did not think I would ever be able to have children.
This was my introduction to the worlds of medicine and prayer. Needless to say, it was the major formative event of my early years, and it made me extremely close to my mother's large, affectionate Hungarian family, who visited me constantly during my long recovery, particularly my mother's older half-sister, Aunt Elsie. And the support of the nuns, who continued to educate me throughout my elementary school years, made me very religious. The long recovery also gave me lots of time to read and to draw.
I was born in Epworth Hospital in South Bend, Indiana on May 15, 1943, during the height of World War II. The hospital was so crowded with wounded soldiers that I was born in its corridor. My mother was very young — only 17 — but she'd already been married to my father for two years. My parents had eloped after my 15-year-old mother was forbidden to see 21-year-old Donald Vary anymore. But they were headstrong, and deeply in love.
My mother's big Hungarian family insisted that my father join the Catholic Church if he ever expected forgiveness. So he did, and a Catholic wedding was held at a side altar. Only then did my grandparents recognize their daughter's marriage. My mother owned five acres of land in Bertrand, Michigan, where my father and his father George, who was a boatwright and carpenter, built her a lovely home. That house was beautiful, but it was wartime, and pipes for plumbing were impossible to find. Fifteen months after I was born, one more child joined the family: my sister, Lynda.
My father was a successful electrical engineer, and had invented some of the electronic parts used in the television sets of the day. He also owned stores that sold and repaired television sets and was part-owner of a local TV station where he worked as the managing engineer. We were not rich by any definition of the term, but my father had a good income and a bright future. We were "comfortable" economically.
When I was eleven, my father started doing engineering consulting at the Chrysler plant in Warren, Michigan, where Chrysler produced the Redstone missile. As a result of this consulting work, he was offered a remarkable job at Sandia National Laboratory, a U.S. Government research facility in New Mexico. Sandia handled the engineering work for the better-known Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of the atomic bomb. The government planned to adapt the atomic bomb to use in rockets, and wanted to make sure no electrical problems would exist regarding the guidance system and its deadly payload.
It was a prestigious Cold War assignment, and my father eagerly accepted the offer. He had deep patriotic motives, as well. He'd injured his leg in a motorcycle accident and was classified 4-F (unsuitable for military service) — the only male in the whole family who hadn't served in any war — and my father felt it keenly. Having passed a lengthy security investigation, and with the imminent sales of his interest in the television station, our TV store and our home, in June 1955, my father drove us to the Sandia National Laboratories compound outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, two weeks before making the final leap. After all, we would be leaving our big extended family behind.
There, my father encountered a problem he had not anticipated: barbed-wire fences. Scientists working on important national security projects, like missile guidance systems, were required to live on the grounds of the Air Force base which housed the laboratories. The base was surrounded by high chain-link fences topped with barbed-wire and protected by armed guards at the gates. My mother took one look at the fences and informed my father that she was not going to raise their children in a prison surrounded by barbed wire. It was an ultimatum made by a strong-willed woman who loved freedom. My father was forced to choose between his dream career and his family. He chose family. But it was a high price for him to pay, and the decision haunted him for the rest of his life.
Thanks to the sale of the TV station, the stores and the royalties he earned from his inventions, he had enough money to move us to St. Petersburg, near Tampa on the west coast of Florida. There we lived near other members of my mother's family, who followed us to the same area. It is in Florida that this story really begins.
"St. Pete", as it is commonly called, is on the north side of Tampa Bay. Its beaches are some of the most beautiful in America. The innocence of our life seems, in retrospect, like an idealized vision of suburban America in the 1950s. Ozzie & Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best played on the television sets my father had helped design. We were patriotic, middle-class and Catholic. America was at peace for the most part and the Cold War seemed far, far away.
The fight against cancer, however, was much closer to home, at least for me. My beloved grandmother (my mother's mother, who lived near us) was dying from breast cancer. I visited her three times each week on my way home from school. I loved her dearly, and affectionately called her by her Hungarian nickname "Nanitsa." Watching her die was terribly painful, but not without purpose. It instilled within me a deep hatred of cancer. Being helpless to stop the insidious growth inside her was extremely frustrating to me. It was 1957.
Later that same year, our family moved once more, to nearby Bradenton, a smaller town on the south side of Tampa Bay. Bradenton is located on the banks of the Manatee River, a wide, peaceful waterway which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
Once in Bradenton, I was enrolled in Walker Jr. High School, a public school whose campus adjoined Manatee High School. Now in 8th grade, I had an art class, and my teacher gave us the assignment of painting a landscape. I set my easel up at the bridge that crossed the Manatee River near the hospital and began painting the river and the beautiful homes nestled along its banks.
Before long, a woman came walking by and stopped to look at my painting. Slender, well-dressed, and older than my mother, she studied my work for a moment, then asked me politely where I had learned to paint. I told her I had been painting for many years and that my uncle, who was an artist, had bought me my first set of oil paints to get me started. When I told her that I was currently studying art at Walker Jr. High, she said she knew my art teacher, Mrs. DePew. As I would soon learn, this woman knew almost all of my teachers, and practically everyone else of significance in Bradenton. When she explained that she ran the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, I told her about my grandmother's cancer, and that I, too, wanted to help in the fight against cancer. She inquired as to my name and then introduced herself as Mrs. Georgianna Watkins. Then she politely excused herself and headed to a garden party at a nearby church.
Several days later, Mrs. Watkins contacted my art teacher at school and asked if I would be willing to paint posters for her American Cancer Society meetings. As it turned out, Mrs. Watkins lived in our neighborhood, just a few blocks away. So, with my mother's permission, I began going to her house to help with her American Cancer Society work.
Mrs. Watkins was a widow who lived alone. Her home was basically devoted to her cancer society work. The front room was full of books and literature about cancer. Other rooms stored assorted medical supplies and various cancer society materials. At first, I simply helped her cut and fold bandages which she delivered to patients at the local hospital. Mrs. Watkins obviously had some kind of medical training (I think she had been a nurse), and I admired the way she spoke knowledgeably about medicine. She taught me my first medical lingo, and I spent my spare time at her house reading about cancer. Mrs. Watkins apparently enjoyed my company and became a mentor to me. She came to play an important role in my life for the next several years.
Back at home, my constant playmate was my sister Lynda. We did the things that teenage girls typically did back then. There was school, church, choir, Girl Scouts, sock hops, slumber parties, and, of course, we had boyfriends who took us roller-skating, to movies, horseback riding and water-skiing.
Both my parents were quite musical. Our father was a good pianist and entertained family and friends with his wide repertoire from jazz to Hungarian czardas. Our mother had a beautiful singing voice, and was well versed in the pop music of her day. They made sure we had piano lessons at an early age and later voice lessons. We both sang in the glee club at school and in our church choir at St. Mary's.
At home, Lynda and I sang constantly, especially with our mother who was quite good at harmony. We practiced various duets and performed them on local television shows. Our first such song was "The Cat Came Back." Later we sang "Tonight You Belong To Me" at a talent show in St. Petersburg and won a prize. I also sang solos in a number of programs.
One year Lynda and I went to circus school. Bordering Bradenton to the south is Sarasota, the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus, and the location of the Ringling Museum. There is a school in Sarasota (today called the Sailor Circus) that trains school children in the performing arts, such as acrobatics, juggling, clowning, high-wire and trapeze, as well as backstage theatrical arts such as costume, lighting, make-up, and stage management. It started with a single gymnastics class in 1949, but today is a permanent 4-ring circus that bills itself as The Greatest "Little" Show On Earth. Lynda and I enrolled in their summer program to study gymnastics and acrobatics, and we put together an act, which we performed around town at places like retirement homes.
Lynda and I studied hypnosis and hypnotized each other to improve our concentration and block out distractions. This, combined with my ability to block out pain acquired during my long hospital stay as a child, gave me an extraordinary ability to concentrate, which might help explain why I became such a fast reader. At one point my reading speed was reported to be 3,400 words-per-minute.
In high school, Lynda won baton trophies and became a majorette — a bubbly portrait of wholesome normalcy. But I was being seduced by science, by great authors and poetry: I threw myself into books. Though Lynda and I continued our acrobatic act, a deep hunger to learn consumed me. I began reading the high school's Encyclopedia Britannica on a daily basis in the 9th grade. By the 10th grade I had completed all 24 volumes of the 1956 edition.
Bradenton looked like many other small Southern towns of that era, with a brick courthouse, a Rexall Drug Store, and a Woolworth's Department Store. I sometimes went shopping with my friends after school, and one day, after buying some Elvis records, we discovered that Woolworth's had some mollies (small black tropical fish) on sale. I noticed one molly had a rather large belly. The salesperson told us she was pregnant, and that this small fish was viviparous; she bore her young alive, instead of laying eggs. My parents had a big tank full of angelfish and other exotics, but none of them bore their young alive. Intrigued, I returned the Elvis records and purchased half a dozen mollies and a small tank.
Several days later, the pregnant molly (I named her "Miss Molly") gave birth. Her babies popped out one by one, but something was wrong. She still had a big lump, and I worried that she was retaining some unborn babies. But our veterinarian, who took care of my mother's poodles, was also an expert on fish and told me she probably had cancer. Nevertheless, Miss Molly was soon pregnant again, but as her time to deliver drew near, she struggled to swim, and gasped for breath. It was clear that she was dying.
As Miss Molly slowly sank to the bottom of the tank, all I could think of were the babies perishing inside her, so I took a razor blade, and with tears blurring my vision, cut off her head. Then I delivered her babies by C-section. It was my first "surgery." Each tiny molly was placed in a watch glass, and six of the eight babies survived.
My mother was proud of me for saving the lives of these little fish, but if I had not wept, she said, she would have been angry. That's how much she loved animals. Later, when I went off to college, she worried when I reported that my turtle, Fitzgerald (named after President Kennedy), had died. "I know you have to dissect mice all the time," she told me, "but promise me that you will never dissect a pet, that you will never have a heart that hard!"
Excerpted from Me & Lee by Judyth Vary Baker. Copyright © 2010 Judyth Vary Baker. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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Meet the Author
Judyth Vary Baker is a teacher and an artist. She lives in Bradenton, Florida. Jim Marrs is an award winning journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller, Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. He lives in Spring, Texas.
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I couldn't put down this non-fiction well-written book that is a page turner. Baker makes the whole period surrounding the JFK assassination come to life and she has many side-bars that explain the characters involved. Medical history also comes to life as the origin of the cancer epidemic we are now experiencing is explained by author Baker as dating from events from this period in New Orleans. The most important thing about this true-life thriller is that Lee Harvey Oswald becomes a "person" not just some strange outsider. I'd rather not give the plot away, and urge readers to read the introduction after finishing the book
This book is a real eye opener concerning the details of Lee Harvey Oswald during the summer of 1963, and his role in U.S. covert activities. It is also a testament to his innocence as Kennedy’s assassin. I started following the Kennedy assassination when it happened. I was 27 years old, living in New Orleans, and working as a secretary on St. Charles Avenue. When it came out that Lee Oswald, the accused assassin, was from New Orleans, and had handed out pro-Castro leaflets just a few blocks from where I worked, I became even more deeply interested in his history. At that time I believed the government, as most people did, when it told us that he was the lone assassin, a communist sympathizer and a nut. When Jim Garrison, the D.A. in New Orleans, and a man I already admired, began investigating the assassination a few years later, I read everything about it. I believed him. I absorbed everything he had to say on the matter, and followed closely as the case unfolded. I was even interviewed myself by Time (or Newsweek, can’t precisely recall) because I lived (in 1967) in the same apartment complex where one of Garrison’s “men of interest” lived. The magazine was interviewing his neighbors to find out if we knew of anything suspicious. i was disappointed and angry when Garrison was vilified by the press and the federal government and thought, “What are these people so angry about, and why are they trying to shut him up?” Later it came out that almost all the people that Garrison was investigating, including Clay Shaw, whom he tried, were CIA! Very interesting to say the least. There is also no doubt that Oswald was CIA, or FBI Intelligence, because of his knowing Russian, his easy defection to Russia, and his easy return! Also his strange, otherwise unexplained activities. Yet in the investigation by our government after the assassination. none of Lee’s involvement with U.S. intelligence came out! Everything in their reports about him was negative – to say the least. Judyth Vary’s book, “Me and Lee,” fills in huge gaps for me. I had often wondered why Oswald acted the way he did in New Orleans that summer of 1963. I had often pondered why he was given a job at the Texas School Book Depository at least a month before the assassination, and was so conveniently there on November 22, 1963, ready to “participate” in the murder of the president. Who put him there and why? It could not have been Lee himself. How would he know that the president was coming to Dallas and that his motorcade was going to be diverted to bring him right in front of the building that he, Oswald, worked in? If Oswald was involved, he had to be part of a conspiracy. And if he was a patsy, as he insisted, that still proves a conspiracy: not only to kill the president, but to shut up those who could throw light on the perpetrators. I found in Judyth’s book a likeable Lee Harvey Oswald. He and Judyth were noble people, who cared about the weak and oppressed. I related to that. My mother and I (from Mississippi and WHITE) first moved to New Orleans in 1950 and felt segregation was wrong! My mother and I (15 at the time) sat in the back of the streetcar, behind the little dividers that said “Colored Only” and even were confronted once by the conductor, who stopped the streetcar and came back to try to make us move! My mother argued back, and refused. The conductor gave up. In reading Judyth’s book, I thought, “Lee and Judyth are my kind of people.” Mrs. Baker’s book is believable, but you have to actually read it to see that. Just on the surface to many it may sound phony, especially the part she played in helping to make the bioweapon meant to kill Castro. But when you understand that Judyth was a science whiz as a teenager, and how she came to be in this situation in New Orleans in the summer of 1963, it all falls into place. The details she gives about the cancer research and the pursuit of a bioweapon to kill Castro are just so complex, it would be very difficult to make up. Oswald’s participation made sense, since we now know of his deep involvement in covert activities that summer, and his association with Dr. Mary Sherman and David Ferrie, leaders in the project. I had often wondered about why Oswald was seen in Clinton, LA with Ferrie and Shaw. It appeared to have something to do with the voter registration drive; but the real reason is more consistent with the bioweapon activities. Garrison knew about the Clinton trip, but did not know the true facts of it. Judyth explains it all, and clears up the questions. She also has hard documentation that she knew Lee, because she worked at Reily’s Coffee Company when he did and signed his time cards! She was actually hired to cover for him, which proves they were working for and with the same people covertly! Her book explains a lot about the reasons Oswald was employed at Reily’s, and how some of his covert activities revolve around Guy Banister’s office. She also has a living witness today in Mrs. Lewis, who says she double dated with her husband and Lee and Judyth several times and considered them “lovers”. I am extremely familiar with all of the parts and landmarks of New Orleans that Mrs. Baker talks about in her book. I can vouch for the accuracy. She would have to be a genius to make all the stuff up, when everything hangs together so perfectly. Of course, she was and is a genius; it is a pity she was cast aside as a cancer researcher and never allowed to study medicine because she had the “bad luck” to be caught up in a covert scheme. She could not ethically test the bioweapon on living people, even criminals; and so she was kicked out and banned from a career in medicine! Enforced by the director of the project, Dr. Alton Ochsner, of whose clinic today (ironically) I am a patient. I thank Judyth Vary Baker for filling in so much of the details of Oswald’s life during that summer of 1963 in New Orleans. The book is an exciting page turner. It is written like a novel, and has something for everybody. But it also has pages and pages of photos and notes that tell so much about the people and places involved during that summer. So much truth is there that it should be of great interest to anyone wishing to know more about what went on in 1963 before and after the assassination of Kennedy, and the subsequent killing of the man who had been set up as a patsy: Lee Harvey Oswald. Jim Garrison said that Oswald killed nobody, and was in fact a hero. Those who believe this as I do, will love the book. Those who do not yet know or accept the truth, will have much of the truth revealed. I highly recommend “Me and Lee” to all.
Someone finally tells the TRUTH about Lee Oswald. Judyth Baker had the courage to stand up and tell what really happened even after so many witnesses died so they could not talk. I could NOT put this book down. Read every word!!!
I met Judyth Vary Baker in Dallas in November 2013, at a seminar put on by the Coalition on Political Assassinations in recognition of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's murder. She was staying in a different hotel, where she was lecturing in connection with her book, but paid a visit to the Hotel Aloft, site of the COPA meeting. "Me and Lee" is an explosive book, in which the author's relationship with accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald develops from their meeting in New Orleans in connection with a CIA-driven campaign to rectify deadly flaws in the Salk vaccine and morphs into a blazing romance. Young Judyth was a child science prodigy in Florida in the 1950s, whose work with laboratory animals (injecting them with cancer cells) gained wide acclaim from Senator George Smathers (a personal friend of JFK) and others. Years later, Ms. Baker explains, she was summoned to New Orleans to aid the Ochsner Clinic (affiliated with the largest hospital in New Orleans) in cancer research. Her immediate supervisor, Dr. Mary Sherman, died under mysterious circumstances in the midst of this research, perhaps because the CIA feared she would reveal the top-secret work the clinic was doing. Oswald doesn't enter the story until midway through the book, and it's fair to say Ms. Baker's account is hard to believe, given what we know from history. Many familiar figures enter the story, including David Ferrie, Carlos Marcello (Mafia don in New Orleans), and Jack Ruby (whom Ms. Baker knew as "Sparky Rubenstein"). I personally found Judyth Vary Baker to be entirely credible, albeit certain elements of the story seem impossible. Could she have been carrying on a passionate romance with Oswald while newly married to someone else? Could Oswald have promised to divorce his wife and run away with her while Marina Oswald was pregnant with their second child? It's an amazing story, but to this skeptic it's hard to imagine that anyone could make it all up. The Coalition on Political Assassinations did not endorse the book, but author Jim Marrs, a very credible source, wrote the Afterword. By all means buy the book...you'll be entertained, whether you accept it as fact or not.
I got kicked out
The writing comes on as a lonely girl with a pipe dreeam of being some one she wishes she had been. Most of it is filled with a cooks tour of New Orleans and her life or lack there of. Much of the info she was given was out right wrong. Especially her view of what the CIA was doing and what part she played in the research end. The publishers should be ashamed of themselves for not checking on the facts
Well written and engaging, but it is impossible for the reader to assess the author's story.