On April 10, 1963, just seven months before he shot and killed President John F. Kennedy, the inscrutable assassin Lee Harvey Oswald crouched behind a fence in an upscale Dallas neighborhood and aimed his rifle at the window of an ultra-conservative firebrand named Edwin Walker, a former U.S. Army general.
Oswald fired, but the bullet caromed off the windowsill and missed Walker’s head by an inch. The Dallas Police Department’s investigation came up cold and Oswald, already flagged by the FBI, evaded further scrutiny. The weapon that Oswald fired at Walker—a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle bought under a false name—was the very same that would take President Kennedy’s life on November 22 of that same year.
Walker Rages Against Kennedy and Communism
In the early 1960s, Dallas, Texas was a “bastion of political conservatism,” the perfect place for General Edwin Walker to launch his post-military career, says Bill Minutaglio, journalist and co-author with Steven L. Davis of Dallas 1963.
Walker resigned from the Army in 1961 after he was rebuked for calling Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman “pink” and sharing right-wing political tracts with his subordinates. Walker arrived in Dallas as a man on a mission, to oppose what he saw as the three worst threats to America: socialism, communism and John F. Kennedy.
“In Dallas, Walker began thinking about running for Governor and he even contemplated running for president,” says Minutaglio. Walker appeared on the cover of Newsweek (“Thunder on the Right!” was the headline) and was given free rein in the editorial pages of the anti-JFK Dallas Morning News.
In 1962, Walker was charged with “insurrection and seditious conspiracy” (but not convicted) after appearing at the violent protests at the University of Mississippi after the school was forced to admit Black student James Meredith as part of federally mandated desegregation.
“This is the conspiracy of the crucifixion by anti-Christ conspirators of the Supreme Court in their denial of prayer and their betrayal of a nation,” shouted Walker at the riot, during which 35 federal marshals were shot and two people killed.
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Oswald’s Motive: A Devotion to Communism
According to Walker, one of the many ways in which JFK was a weak, even traitorous president was his policy on Cuba, where Fidel Castro ruled over a communist nation in America’s backyard. Walker not only wanted the U.S. military to remove Castro, who came to power after in a 1959 revolution, but openly called for the communist leader’s assassination.
Lee Harvey Oswald lived just a few minutes away from Walker in Dallas in a rented duplex that he shared with his wife Marina and their baby girl. Oswald met and married Marina in the Soviet Union, where Oswald briefly attempted to defect and live out a communist fantasy as a Soviet factory worker.
Back in Dallas, Oswald worked as a typesetter and read Russian-language communist newspapers in the break room. He would have been more than familiar with a figure like Walker, who was one of the loudest anti-Communist voices in Dallas and the country as a whole.
“The assumption, and it’s just an assumption,” says Minutaglio, “is that Oswald, who authentically supported a pro-Cuba movement, saw Walker as a direct threat. Walker was somebody who had a lot of connections and authority in worlds that Oswald imagined existed.”
From the little that’s known about Oswald and his state of mind in 1963, he was a man with his own mission: to be an “agent of change,” as Minutaglio puts it, for the communist cause. In March, Oswald’s mail-order rifle arrived and he later posed for a famous photo taken by Marina of the loyal revolutionary with his gun. He also had a plan: to kill Edwin Walker.
“Oswald was this malleable figure who had a hair-trigger personality,” says Minutaglio. “He had read about Walker, heard him speak, seen him in person, and Walker’s antagonistic position on so many things, including Cuba, lit a fire under Oswald. For a loner like Oswald, who had a lot of anger, we believe that a polarizing figure like Walker stirred him into action.”
Oswald Stakes Out Walker
For weeks, Oswald carefully plotted how he was going to kill Walker. Oswald staked out the narrow alleyway behind Walker’s house and found the perfect vantage point behind a 5-foot picket fence. He planned how, after the deed was done, he would ditch the rifle at some nearby railroad tracks, double back through a park and take the bus home.
Other than occasionally railing against Walker’s “fascism,” Oswald didn’t tell Marina anything about his plot. On the evening of April 10, Oswald went off on another of his unexplained errands, but this time he left behind a cryptic note for his wife listing what she should do if he didn’t come home.
“Send the information as to what has happened to me to the [Soviet] Embassy and include newspaper clippings (should there be anything about me in the newspapers),” wrote Oswald. “I believe that the Embassy will come quickly to your assistance on learning everything.”
Around 9 p.m., Oswald was positioned behind the picket fence outside of Walker’s house. He probably couldn’t believe his good fortune. Walker was seated at his desk doing his income taxes, his head perfectly framed by the upstairs window just 120 feet from Oswald’s rifle.
Oswald pulled the trigger and a sharp crack exploded behind Walker’s head. At first, Walker thought some neighborhood rascal had thrown a firecracker at his window, but then the career soldier realized what was happening. He grabbed his pistol and ran outside, at which point he noticed blood pooling on his shirtsleeve from glass and metal shrapnel from the broken window.
The Dallas police correctly categorized the shooting as an assassination attempt, but their investigation turned up no suspects. Oswald retrieved his stashed rifle and likely fumed over the missed opportunity. It was such an easy shot, especially for a former Marine like Oswald.
“If not for fate and circumstance, Walker should have been dead,” says Minutaglio.
Could an Arrest Have Prevented JFK’s Assassination?
Investigators didn’t discover Oswald’s involvement in the Walker shooting until after the JFK assassination and Oswald’s own death at the hands of Dallas businessman Jack Ruby.
When Marina testified before the Warren Commission, she remembered Oswald calling Walker “a very bad man, that he was a fascist, that he was the leader of a fascist organization.” She also held onto the note Oswald had left her, evidence to her that he indeed attempted to kill Walker that night in April.
No one can be sure of Oswald’s motive in the Walker shooting, nor is it clear why Oswald would have first targeted an avowed JFK hater only to kill the same president only months later. And then, says Minutaglio, there’s the biggest “what if?” of all.
“Some people have criticized the investigation of the Walker assassination attempt,” says Minutalgio. “They say, if it had been a truly deep and thorough investigation, then Oswald would have been arrested and imprisoned, and JFK would have lived.”
Unlike JFK, Walker went on to live a long life. He died of lung cancer at his home in Dallas in 1993—10 days before his 84th birthday.