Saturday, 18 June 2022 19:51

The Assassination and Mrs. Paine (Part 1)

Written by

Jim DiEugenio reviews Max Good’s new documentary The Assassination and Mrs. Paine and, here in part 1, begins with a survey of the literature regarding the peculiar connections of the Paines and their questionable relationship with the Oswalds and how Good presents these curious relationships and depicts their intriguing behavior both before and after the assassination.

Film-maker Max Good has spent several years working on a film about Ruth and Michael Paine and what their precise relationship was to the assassination of President John Kennedy. Although I have some reservations about it, it is worth watching and I encourage our readers to do so.

One of the most puzzling aspects about it is this: Why did it take almost 60 years for anyone to make a film on such a rich, relevant, and interesting topic? Perhaps because there are no references to either Paine in the indexes of Harold Weisberg’s book Whitewash, Edward Epstein’s Inquest, or Josiah Thompson’s Six Seconds in Dallas.

Of the first generation of critics, Sylvia Meagher’s book devotes by far the most pages to the Paines. Perhaps, we should quote her overall impression of Ruth Paine in order to place Max’s film in perspective:

Ruth Paine…is a complex personality, despite her rather passive façade…Some examples from her testimony show a predisposition against Oswald and a real or pretended friendliness toward the FBI and other Establishment institutions, which should not be overlooked in evaluating her role in the case…Mrs. Paine is sometimes a devious person, and her testimony must be evaluated in that light. (Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 217)

But it was really Jim Garrison who first tried to place the Paines under the microscope. For example, he was interested in the family ties of Ruth, specifically who her sister Sylvia worked for. In fact, he questioned Ruth about this point during Ruth’s appearance before the New Orleans grand jury. To put it mildly, Ruth replied in a rather non-responsive manner, a point we shall examine later.

Ruth and Michael Paine spent, by far, the most time on the witness stand for the Warren Commission. According to Walt Brown, the combined total questions they answered was over six thousand. In fact, Ruth was so eager to answer questions, she even volunteered areas of examination that she thought the Commission had bypassed. For instance, as Albert Jenner was about to close his questioning of her on March 21, 1964, Ruth interjected with:

Ruth: You have not asked me yet if I had seen anything of a note purported to be written by Lee at the time of the attempt on Walker. And I might just recount for you that, if it is of any importance…

Jenner: Yes, I wish you would…Tell me all you know about it. (WC Vol. 9, pp. 393­–94)

As we shall see, a major problem with the Paines is this: they surfaced evidence of things Oswald did which were in fact, dubious acts. One would be the supposed Walker shooting, another would be Oswald’s alleged journey to Mexico City. Looked at with the perspective, we have today—after the work of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB)—the implicative nature of these events is rendered suspect. Therefore, the fact that the Paines were part of finding evidence that incriminated Oswald—in events that perhaps did not occur—this should merit some notice. In fact, 5 days after she delivered the Walker Note to the Secret Service—in Marina Oswald’s book—Ruth was visited by two Secret Service agents. They were actually returning her the note, since they thought it was from her. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 203)

It is surprising to juxtapose the star billing the Commission gave the Paines with the fact that neither the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) nor the ARRB called them in for questioning. It is, perhaps, a bit disturbing. For during and after the days of the ARRB, a whole wave of information created a new data plateau on the Paines. The parties who were largely responsible for this new information were author George Michael Evica and researchers Carol Hewett, Barbara La Monica, and Steve Jones. Evica wrote a book, A Certain Arrogance, which dealt with the Paines and their religious background. Before that, Hewett, LaMonica, and Jones wrote a series of essays on the couple for Probe magazine. We will be referring to both in this review.


The way this reviewer got involved with the matter was that I was the publisher of Probe magazine when Hewett, LaMonica, and Jones wrote their essays. I thought their work was new and interesting. Author Thomas Mallon was so dismayed by their work that he wrote a book contesting it. (Mrs. Paine’s Garage, 2002) The writing trio began their series with a truism: “Ruth and Michael Paine…are among the most significant, yet least studied, of the figures surrounding the Kennedy assassination.” (Probe, Vol. 3 No. 4 p. 14) After reading their work, this was an understatement. The three were responsible for a set of eight essays which one can reference on this site.

A provocative point Carol conveyed dealt with Ruth’s so-called discovery of Lee Oswald’s letter to the Russian embassy, which he wrote at her home over Memorial Day weekend, 1963. In her testimony before the Commission, Ruth tried to explain why she took the rather remarkable step of picking the letter up, hand copying it, and eventually giving it to the FBI. She said that as she glanced at the letter, the first sentence contained a lie and she was insulted by Oswald using her typewriter to do such a thing. But if one buys the official story, which Ruth does, the first line of the letter, about Oswald visiting a Russian diplomat in Mexico City, was not a lie. Commission lawyer Albert Jenner understood that this made for a serious problem. He (wisely) decided to go off the record. Jenner knew they had to patch over Ruth’s story. (Probe, Vol. 4 No. 3, p. 17)

Throughout that series, the authors exposed things like this to the light of day. One more example will suffice. There had always been a question as to why the relationship between Ruth and Marina Oswald ended after the assassination. When Marina testified before the New Orleans Grand Jury, she addressed this. As we know, Marina was detained by the Secret Service for weeks afterwards. She told the jury, “I was advised by the Secret Service not to be connected with her (Ruth Paine)…She was sympathizing with the CIA.” When assistant Andrew Sciambra pursued that line, he asked her, “In other words, you were left with the distinct impression that she was in some way connected to the CIA?” The one word reply was, “Yes.” (Probe Vol. 7 No. 3, p. 3) Was this the reason the Secret Service returned the so-called Walker Note to Ruth? (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 203)

The separation of Ruth from Marina after Kennedy’s murder is a good way to introduce one of the most intriguing and compelling aspects of Max Good’s film. Because as we know, prior to Ruth Paine becoming so inseparable from Marina, the person who escorted the Oswalds around Dallas/Fort Worth was George DeMohrenschildt. As Max asks Ruth in the film: Why would a White Russian be so interested in a Communist? Ruth replies that this is a good question.

We actually know why. Near the end of his life, DeMohrenschildt stated that, on his own, he would have never come near the Oswalds. J. Walton Moore, chief of the CIA station in Dallas, asked him to do so. (DiEugenio, p. 194) George, sometimes called the Baron, arranged a gathering of the White Russian community with the Oswalds in late February of 1963. From that gathering, Ruth arranged a one-on-one meeting with Marina. Approximately three weeks after that meeting, April 7th, Ruth composed a letter asking Marina to move in with her. Kind of fast? (Probe, Vol. 5 No. 1, p. 14)

As described in the film by myself and Peter Scott, around this time, George left for Haiti, had a briefing in the DC area with the CIA and military intelligence, and then had about $300,000 deposited into his account. (James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, p. 168) As I ask in the film: Was this for services rendered? We will never know, since after he was subpoenaed by the HSCA, the Baron was either killed or took his own life by shotgun blast.

One of the strongest parts of the film is the segue from DeMohrenschildt to Priscilla Johnson. Because after the (likely) forced cut off between Ruth and Marina, Johnson entered the picture—and she stayed there for a long time, like 13 years. Priscilla always denied she was with the CIA. She even threatened to sue Jerry Policoff over this. It’s a good thing she did not, because as Max shows in the film, the ARRB pretty much sealed the deal on her. He shows the documents which categorize her as a “witting collaborator,” meaning that she did not need to be employed by them; they could rely on her to write sympathetic stories anyway. (See also, John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, pp. 279–82)

As the film shows, you have one CIA asset—the Baron—escorting the Oswalds around Dallas/Fort Worth upon their return from the USSR. You had another—Johnson—picking up Marina after the assassination and becoming her personal escort. And when Priscilla finally wrote her book about the Oswalds, Marina and Lee, it completely backed the Warren Report.

In the interim, you had Ruth and Michael Paine. Further, both Ruth and Priscilla were producing evidence Oswald was in Mexico City, when, in fact, Marina initially insisted to the Secret Service he was not. (DiEugenio, p. 203; Armstrong, p. 696, Secret Service report of Charles Kunkel, 12/3/63) And many researchers today—including the authors of the HSCA’s Mexico City Report—agree he wasn’t.

The film makes this point about parallels rather subtly; I have made it more bluntly.


Although it is not part of his ostensible subject, Good does a nice job in penciling in the background to his story: namely the presidency of John Kennedy. As many have, he notes that some of JFK’s policies fostered opposition from people in high places, for example the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis. But people like the Paines and Priscilla Johnson have always used the old standby that, for those examining the case, it is hard to accept that a little man like Oswald could single handedly erase a great figure like Kennedy. The subtext being that this is what fulfilled Oswald as a large figure in history, for example Michael voices this mantra early in the narrative. But if that was so, then why did Oswald never claim credit for the assassination? On the contrary, as the film shows, he loudly stated he was a patsy.

At this point, Ruth says that the Warren Report always made sense to her. Priscilla tops this with an astonishing comment: she says that conspiracy theories have done more damage to the country than the death of JFK did. In the film, it is made clear that when the police arrived at the Paine household, looked for a weapon, and did not find one in the rolled up blanket Marina thought it was in, this shocked Mrs. Paine. It started her down the road to incriminating Oswald in the press.

But it was Ruth who picked up Marina from New Orleans, packed the car, and drove her to Irving to stay with her, thus now accomplishing what she was trying to do since April. If there was a rifle amid the belongings, why did neither she nor her husband notice it while packing and then unpacking the station wagon? They missed it twice?

One of the valuable contributions the film makes is the outlining of the curious family ties that the Paines had. (For a good summary see Evica, pp. 364–65) As noted, Ruth’s father, William Avery Hyde, and her brother-in-law, John Hoke, worked for US AID, which was closely tied to the CIA. As Greg Parker discovered, her sister, Sylvia Hyde Hoke, worked on a joint CIA/Air Force project. (Lee Harvey Oswald’s Cold War, pp. 266–68) One of the most pungent moments in the film is when Max calls Sylvia and asks for an interview. She instantly hangs up on him. Michael Paine’s mother, Ruth Forbes Young, was best of friends with Mary Bancroft. Bancroft was both an agent and girlfriend of CIA Director Allen Dulles. As author Bill Simpich notes in the film: could Mary have noted to Allen the utility of the Quaker/ Unitarian couple in performing surveillance duties on the left?

In fact, this is the theme of Evica’s book: how Allen Dulles used these religious groups—Quakers and Unitarians—for espionage work, for example Noel Field. And Bancroft knew about this. (Evica, p. 116) Evica ended his book by suggesting that Allen Dulles may have helped secure for the Paines a sterling character recommendation from a wealthy couple at the beginning of the FBI’s inquiry into the JFK murder. This was from Frederick Osborne Jr. and his wife Nancy. (A Certain Arrogance, pp. 250–58) Allen had worked with Frederick’s father in the National Committee for a Free Europe and also in the CIA’s Crusade for Freedom. And there are examples of surveillance activities by the couple.

Sue Wheaton appears in the film. She met Ruth in Nicaragua in 1990, after the election of Violetta Chamorro. Ruth was with Pro-Nica, a project out of St. Petersburg. This was a more conservative strain of the Quaker movement. Wheaton said that Ruth told her that their Quaker group was funded primarily by “6 wealthy, conservative individuals from the Southeast.”(Probe, Vol. 3 No. 5, p. 9) Wheaton also noted that Ruth’s group ran a sawmill project on the east coast of Nicaragua, a Contra holdout and nexus of CIA based activities. Ruth showed up at Wheaton’s council meetings of the anti-Contra group, of which Pro-Nica was not a member. Wheaton got the distinct impression Ruth was taking down information about individuals and groups in attendance. Ruth “studied the bulletin board there, copying everything on it…Also she made reference to people she knew in the U. S . Embassy.” (ibid) Wheaton later added that Ruth would show up with two cohorts and these two men would make tape recordings and take pictures. Ruth’s plea was they were authorized by the Nicaragua Network to take photos, but when this was checked, the claim turned out to be ersatz.

In the spring of 1963, Michael Paine was engaging students from Southern Methodist University in debate and discussion “about communism in general and Cuba in particular.” During these debates, it was Michael who took the role of a Castro advocate. He even bragged about being familiar with an actual communist, “an ex-Marine who had recently returned to the States with a Russian wife,” an obvious reference to Lee Harvey Oswald. Michael also encouraged these students to go to local commie cell gatherings. (Probe, Vol. 5 No. 1, p. 14)

This last point leads us to one of the most provocative pieces of evidence concerning the Paines. Did Detective Buddy Walthers find the notes Michael kept of these meetings? These would be the file folders found at their home with information on communist, Castro sympathizers. They were picked up by Walthers on the weekend of the assassination and he made a contemporaneous report about them. (Armstrong, pp. 879–80) Over time, they were made to disappear, until they ended up in the Warren Commission “Speculations and Rumors” section. One of the most interesting parts of the film is that it appears that Ruth has employed, or is good friends with, a veteran of the Defense Investigative Service. Max talked to this gentleman and he tracked down one of the (now) empty file folder boxes. He informs Max that Ruth does a lot of studying on the Kennedy case.

There is one other example of this possible activity that could have been used. Cliff Shasteen was a barber who cut Oswald’s hair a few times in the fall of 1963. Cliff said that Oswald was accompanied twice by a 14 year old boy who did not get his hair cut or say anything. But strangely, this boy appeared by himself a few days before the assassination. Once there, he began to rant about the benefits of one world government and the plight of “have nots” in society. Shasteen was taken aback, because he knew he was not a local kid. The youth never returned. (Click here for details)

Greg Parker did a fine job of inquiring into this odd, but notable occurrence. Greg deduced that the description fit future actor Bill Hootkins perfectly. Who had access to both Hootkins and Oswald? Ruth Paine tutored Hootkins in Russian that fall. Bill’s mother told the Bureau that Ruth would pick her son up and take him to St. Mark’s—an upper class, private school where Ruth worked at—for lessons. Hootkins’ contact information was in Ruth’s address book. Did Ruth take young Bill to Irving instead?

see Part 2

Purchase here on iTunes.

Purchase here on Amazon.

Last modified on Sunday, 26 June 2022 03:32
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

Find Us On ...


Please publish modules in offcanvas position.