Funeral Industry News

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Brother Sues Funeral Home and Auction House

January 17, 2011

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Brother Sues Funeral Home and Auction House

imageLee Harvey Oswald’s brother has sued a funeral home and an auction house, claiming they sold the assassin’s original coffin, embalming table and records, and their mother’s funeral records, for more than $160,000, invading his privacy and breaching contract. Robert Edward Lee Oswald sued the Baumgardner Funeral Home, Allen Baumgardner Sr. and Nate D. Sanders Inc. – the Los Angeles auction house – in Tarrant County Court, Fort Worth.

In his 13-page complaint, Robert Oswald says that on Nov. 24, 1963 – the day Jack Ruby killed his brother on national TV in Dallas – he made arrangements for his brother’s funeral with Miller’s Funeral Home in Tarrant County. Oswald says he “purchased a #31 Pine Bluff Casket from Miller’s Funeral Home and Miller’s Funeral Home agreed to prepare and care for the body of plaintiff’s brother for interment and to conduct the funeral of plaintiff’s brother at Miller’s Funeral Home. In exchange, plaintiff paid Miller’s the contract amount.

“Paul J. Groody was the director of Miller’s Funeral Home and performed the embalming and preparation of the body of plaintiff’s brother. Baumgardner assisted Groody in his work. After the funeral, plaintiff’s brother was buried at Rose Hall Memorial Park in Fort Worth.”

After the funeral, Oswald says, Miller’s Funeral Home was purchased by Baumgardner and/or Baumgardner Inc., making them successors in interest to Miller’s Funeral Home.

Here the tale takes a turn toward the bizarre.

“Since the burial of plaintiff’s brother, many have proferred various theories that plaintiff’s brother was not the assassin of President Kennedy, or, alternatively, acted in concert with others. One such theory was advanced by Michael Eddowes. Eddowes claimed that it was not plaintiff’s brother buried in Rose Hall Memorial Park, but rather a Russian agent. In 1978, Eddowes initiated a legal and publicity campaign to exhume and examine the body of plaintiff’s brother. Eddowes’ campaign culminated in a 1981 exhumation of the body of plaintiff’s brother.”

During that exhumation, Oswald says, “it was discovered that the #31 Pine Bluff casket originally purchased by plaintiff had deteriorated. Authorities, including Paul Groody, examined the body, conducted various tests, and confirmed that the body was indeed that of plaintiff’s brother.”

The assassin’s body was then “placed in a new casket and reburied at Rose Hill Memorial Park.”

The Oswalds’ mother died on Jan. 17, 1981. Robert Oswald hired Baumgardner Inc. to prepare her body and conduct the funeral and bury her at the same cemetery where his brother lay.

Paul Groody died on Oct. 12, 2010. “Until Dec. 1, 2010, plaintiff believed that the #31 Pine Bluff casket had been destroyed,” Oswald says. He says that until that time he “did not know and could not have discovered that the casket was actually in possession of Baumgardner and Baumgardner Inc.”

But on that day, he says, he was notified “that #31 Pine Bluff casket along with other related items [was] being sold by Sanders Inc. According to sales literature on Sanders Inc.’s website … Baumgardner and Baumgardner Inc. had storied numerous personal items relating to the burials of Marguerite Oswald and plaintiff’s brother. 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 possess of any item incident to the burial of his family members.”

Oswald says that “Instead and on December 2010, Baumgardner and Baumgardner Inc. employed Sanders Inc. to sell numerous items related to the death of his family. These items were advertised on a public website … along with color photographs of the items, and photographs of the body of plaintiff’s brother. Baumgardner also provided a certificate for each item attesting to the authenticity of the items.”

Oswald says 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 says that on Dec. 7, 2010, he notified each of the defendants that he objected to the sale of the casket – he says he was unaware that the other items were being sold. He says attorneys for Sanders told him “they would continue with the sale unless plaintiff furnished them with ‘Evidence and/or authority establishing [plaintiff’s] ownership of the item.'” (Brackets in complaint.)

Oswald says he “promptly responded” by sending them the funeral order showing that he bought the casket, “and a copy of the cashier’s check used to purchase the funerals services.” He says the defendants already knew that “because Lee’s funeral agreement was one of the funeral items in possession of the defendants.”

“Notwithstanding this proof of ownership, defendants proceeded with the sale in full knowledge of plaintiff’s claim of ownership and ultimately received over $160,000 for sale [of] the funeral items and embalming items.”

Oswald says that in addition to the money, “the funeral items sold were of a personal and sentimental value. The damages suffered by plaintiff as a result of the circulation of these confidential items far outweighs the market value brought at auction.”

He demands disgorgement and punitive damages for breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy to breach fiduciary duty, breach of contract, tortious interference with contract, conversion, privacy invasion, negligence, and gross negligence.

Oswald is represented by Matthew Anderson with Gibson, Davenport and Anderson of Wichita Falls, Texas.