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Paul Joseph Groody dies

Duke Lane

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From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 12, 2010 (click for original):

By Melody McDonald - mjmcdonald@star-telegram.com

As a longtime Texas undertaker, Paul Joseph Groody certainly handled his share of bodies and burials over the years.

But the most infamous visitor to his funeral home -- the one who earned him a place in American history -- was Lee Harvey Oswald, who was shot to death after being arrested in the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"Well, he got the call from the Secret Service," recalled Mr. Groody's wife, Virginia. "They told him they wanted him buried right away because of safety's sake. And he took it from there."

In fact, over the next two decades, Mr. Groody would bury Oswald twice: in 1963 and again in 1981when Oswald's body was exhumed after Oswald's widow and conspiracy theorists questioned who was in the grave.

Mr. Groody, funeral director at the former Miller Funeral Home in Fort Worth, died Thursday in Austin, where he and his wife had retired. He was 91.

Mr. Groody was born Feb. 22, 1919, to a father who was a doctor and a mother who loved music, his wife said. He and his two older brothers, Tom and John, were raised in Manhattan, Kan.

Mr. Groody served his country during World War II as an Army medical technician officer, commanding a field medical aid station, and was honored for his bravery with a Bronze Star.

Virginia Groody said she met her husband by happenstance while he was stationed at Camp Swift, a combat infantry training camp near the small Central Texas town of Bastrop. She and her family had gone to an open house at the camp when they heard someone playing the organ inside an Army chapel.

"He was sitting at the organ playing," she said. "We walked over and introduced ourselves. He was so nice to us. He was nice to everyone. They broke the mold when they made Paul. Of course, I'm prejudiced."

Their chance meeting led to 66 years of marriage and two children, Don and Patricia, she said.

When Mr. Groody got out of the service, his wife said, he became a mortician and funeral director, a career that took them to San Marcos, Austin and, finally, to Fort Worth. Mr. Groody was the funeral director at Miller Funeral Home when he took a call asking him to hastily and quietly handle Oswald's body and burial.

Oswald, 24, had been fatally shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby at Dallas police headquarters Nov. 24, 1963, two days after the assassination of Kennedy in downtown Dallas.

Virginia Groody said her husband was friends with the son of a Secret Service Agent who had been assigned to find someone to handle Oswald's funeral.

"He called his son and his son said, 'There is only one man I know that can take care of it,' and it was Paul Groody of Miller Funeral Home," she said.

Mr. Groody signed Oswald's death certificate, embalmed his body, placed him in a reinforced steel concrete coffin and made arrangements for him to be buried at Rose Hill Chapel Cemetery in east Fort Worth on Nov. 25, 1963.

Kennedy's funeral was held the same day in Washington, D.C., and only a few people showed up at Rose Hill other than police and reporters. Needing to get Oswald's casket from the hearse to the grave, Mr. Groody drafted reporters to serve as pallbearers.

The funeral, which cost $710, was paid for by Oswald's brother.

That wasn't the end of Mr. Groody's involvement in the case.

In 1981, he handled the exhumation of Oswald's body amid growing speculation that a Soviet spy had been buried in Oswald's place.

When Mr. Groody re-examined the body, he concluded that it was Oswald's, but it didn't appear to be the head he had embalmed nearly two decades earlier.

After that, Mr. Groody was regularly interviewed or asked to give testimony by those investigating conspiracy theories. In the 2002 documentary Infamous Grave Sites, he is quoted as saying, "I don't know any more than you all know; I only buried the man that was supposed to have been the man that killed the president." Melody McDonald, 817-390-7386

NOTE: The Star-Telegram errata notes that the photo accompanying this article misidentifies Groody in the photo of Oswald's casket being carried to the grave.

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