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Shirley Martin and the death of her daughter, Victoria

John Simkin

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There is virtually nothing on the web about the important work that Shirley Martin did in the months following the assassination of JFK.

Shirley and her oldest daughter, Victoria, were active supporters of John F. Kennedy in the 1960 Presidential Election. They established a small Democratic headquarters in Hominy, Oklahoma, but had to drive to Tulsa for supplies, such as campaign buttons and stickers. It was a conservative part of the United States and Martin later commented: "We were not popular as the Baptist churches in Hominy were noisily anti-Kennedy."

When Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd November, 1963, Shirley Martin immediately became suspicious that he was a victim of a conspiracy. This feeling was increased when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby. She began collecting newspaper articles on the death of Kennedy. This included an article by Mark Lane in the National Guardian that appeared on 19th December, 1963. Martin wrote to Lane and offered to help him with his research. She also sent a copy of the article to Marguerite Oswald.

Shirley Martin read one article that claimed Jean Hill and her friend, Mary Moorman, who were taking photographs of the motorcade, thought the shots had come from behind them on the grassy knoll. Martin telephoned Hill on 25th January, 1964. She told Martin that as soon as the firing stopped they ran towards the wooden fence in an attempt to find the gunman. However, they were detained by two secret service men. After searching the two women they confiscated the picture of the assassination.

Hill told Martin that she was very scared as another witness, Warren Reynolds, had been shot in the head by an unknown assailant, the night before: "Mrs Hill told me that she and Miss Moorman had received many threatening phone calls urging them to keep quiet and when they reported these to the Dallas police, they received an official brush-off. Mrs. Hill said Miss Moorman would not talk to me as she was much more frightened and upset over the whole thing than Mrs. Hill was."

Martin also contacted Marguerite Oswald. She sent her Lane's article that had appeared in the National Guardian and then telephoned her about her son. "We were both excited. Here was Richard Coeur de Lion riding to the rescue in the form of a stout-hearted New York lawyer." Martin put Lane in contact with Marguerite who asked him to represent her dead son before the Warren Commission. Lane later recalled: "That I was interested was obvious. Yet there were problems which appeared insurmountable." This included the fact that Lane's sole corporate client had disapproved of his article on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. "Any future similar activity would result in the reluctant, but certain, termination of my services."

On 27th January 1964, Harold Feldman had his article Oswald and the FBI published in The Nation. Feldman started the article with the following words: "The Warren Commission should, if possible, tell us how President Kennedy was killed, who killed him, and why. But beyond that, it must tell us if the FBI or any other government intelligence agency was in any way connected with the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. At this moment, the possibility of such associations in the young man’s life is intolerably a subject for speculation." Feldman then went on to discuss the information reported by Joseph C. Goulden and Alonzo (Lonnie) Hudkins. Feldman argued: "Was the alleged assassin of President Kennedy employed by the FBI? We have seen a news report that the agency tried to recruit him and that it has refused to say whether he accepted the offer. At present, all we know is that his history, as we have been able to piece it together, is not inconsistent with such employment. Indeed, his financial record seems entirely unexplainable unless we make some such hypothesis." Martin contacted Feldman and offered to help him interview the witnesses to the assassination of John F. Kennedy and J. D. Tippit.

In February 1964, Shirley Martin and her daughter Victoria made their first visit to Dallas in order to interview witnesses. This included Ruth Paine who allowed them to look around her home and showed them the place in the garage where the alleged assassination rifle was supposedly stored. Ruth told the Martins that she was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy. Michael Paine arrived while they were there and seemed very uncomfortable about the women being in his home.

Paine immediately notified the FBI of the Martin's visit. On 29th February, 1964, Ruth Paine was interviewed by James P. Hosty. His report stated: "Mrs. Martin stated she felt the evidence was not fully incriminating as far as Lee Harvey Oswald was concerned and she wanted to satisfy herself as to the facts. She indicated she had spent most of her time in Dallas retracing the route of Oswald following the shooting of President Kennedy and had timed the alleged escape route of Oswald following the shooting. Mrs. Martin stated she did not believe the gun photographed at the police department was the same gun which was being held by Oswald in a picture released to the press later. She referred to a photograph taken sometime prior to the assassination showing Oswald holding a rifle. Since the date of her contact with Mrs. Paine, Mrs. Martin has called on the telephone from her home in Hominy, Oklahoma, many times and has written almost daily letters to Mrs. Paine all along the same line, looking for inconsistencies in the case and seeking to find out why Oswald shot President Kennedy if such was the case." In a subsequent memo J. Edgar Hoover, citing Paine as a source, claimed that Martin was a "bright nut" and a "possible mental case".

On 1st April 1964, Marguerite Oswald announced that Mark Lane was no longer representing the interests of her murdered son. Shirley Martin wrote to Lane explaining the situation: "She is very angry with you... My opinion is that this reaction is piqued by female vanity. Perhaps Mrs. Oswald in her terrible loneliness after the assassination (and the shock was terrible) may have formed a small attachment for you (as a patient can for his analyst); the realization that you couldn't giver her much of your time (nor wanted to) may have brought on this reaction."

Harold Feldman decided to take up Martin's offer and in June 1964, along with his brother-in-law, Vincent J. Salandria, they went to Dallas to visit Helen Markham, the only witness who saw the actual shooting of J. D. Tippit. She refused to talk to them and she reported the visit to the FBI. According to their report on 24th July: "She (Markham) stated she was frightened and did not desire to talk with Mrs. Oswald and the two alleged reporters since she regarded Mrs. Oswald as a mean appearing person."

They also visited the home of Ruth Paine. Her husband, Michael Paine made comments that suggested he had been informed about the background of Salandria: "Why are you working on the assassination? Why don't you stick to your work in civil liberties and civil rights?" Salandria later told Sylvia Meagher: "Michael Paine advised us under questioning of a cross-examination nature, that Oswald was serving as a spy in right-wing organizations." Based on their discussions, Salandria concluded that Paine knew Lee Harvey Oswald much better than his Warren Commission testimony suggested.

While they were visiting Dealey Plaza they were approached by a man who made it clear that he knew who they were. Salandria commented that this was probably connected to the comments made by Michael Paine: "The only plausible explanation was that the killers were advertising to me that my efforts to maintain a low profile in the case were unsuccessful. They were also telling me that I could no longer trust my most loving friends. They were instructing me that I could no longer trust my most loving friends. They were instructing me that I was being watched by the agents of the killers. They were advising me that I had a safe haven, if I gave up the assassination work and continued in my American Civil Liberties Union work... they were transparently advertising to me that they had great power, and that I had none."

Shirley Martin also interviewed Acquilla Clemons who had also seen the events around the killing of J. D. Tippit. As John Kelin, the author of Praise from a Future Generation (2007), has pointed out: "As Shirley Martin, accompanied by her children, interviewed Acquilla Clemons. Mrs. Martin was not at all confident that she would be granted the interview, so her daughter Vickie carried a tape recorder hidden in her purse. Vickie later transcribed the surreptitious recording of their conversation with Mrs. Clemons, and the tape was passed on to Mark Lane. As they prepared for the interview, the Martins did not yet know that, like Helen Markham, Acquilla Clemons had been visited by menacing authorities who advised her not to talk about what she had seen." At first Clemons refused to answer questions but eventually confirmed that two men were involved in the killing.

On the way back they visited Marguerite Oswald, who was living in Fort Worth. It was noted that she seemed to be living in improved circumstances. Vincent J. Salandria reported: "Shirley Martin told me that Marguerite had received money from good people who were interested in her welfare". Martin later commented: "If Marguerite was bought off because she needed money, she did it deliberately, and used the money, and didn't change her thinking one iota."

David Welsh of Ramparts, published an article about Kennedy assassination researchers in November, 1966. It included this passage about the work of Shirley Martin: "If many will treat these amateur investigators as some unique breed of kook, the Dallas police take them seriously. When Shirley Martin, a housewife from Hominy, Oklahoma, made trips to Dallas to interview witnesses, the police would tail her, openly following her car at short distance, and stay in her shadow until she left town."

In late 1966 Shirley Martin was approached by two journalists, Lawrence Schiller and Richard Warren Lewis, who were writing an article about the critics of the Warren Commission. The article was published by the New York World Journal Tribune on 22nd January, 1967. It was followed by a book, The Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report (1967) and a record album, The Controversy (1967).

Schiller and Lewis used all three to attack the credibility of critics such as Shirley Martin, Penn Jones, Harold Weisberg, Ray Marcus, Vincent J. Salandria, Mark Lane, Maggie Field and Sylvia Meagher. Martin was described as an "amateur detective with a passion for Agatha Christie mysteries" whereas Penn Jones was dismissed as a "drawling backwoods prophet" and falsely as an alcoholic who carried a "pint of bourbon in his hip pocket". The most savage attack was on Lane: "His wily showmanship helped sway millions of converts. But there were still millions more who realized that Rush to Judgment really belonged on top of the fiction best-seller lists."

Martin continued to work closely with Mark Lane, Harold Weisberg, Ray Marcus, Vincent J. Salandria, Penn Jones, Maggie Field and Sylvia Meagher. Penn Jones told The Texas Observer: "The combined work of Lane, Meagher, Salandria, Shirley Martin, Ray Marcus, Weisberg, and myself should be enough to warrant a new investigation. But I doubt that it will come before ten years."

On 8th September, 1967, Shirley Martin's oldest daughter, Victoria, who had accompanied her mother to Dallas to interview witnesses, was with her friend Candy in a Volkswagen Beetle, that was "sideswiped" by another car. Candy died the next day but Victoria, who sustained twenty-four broken bones in the crash, lingered for four days before dying of her injuries. After the death of her daughter Shirley Martin gave up research into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As she had worked with Penn Jones on the death of witnesses, she no doubt thought she was being told to give up the investigation.



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In late 1966 Shirley Martin was approached by two journalists, Lawrence Schiller and Richard Warren Lewis, who were writing an article about the critics of the Warren Commission. The article was published by the New York World Journal Tribune on 22nd January, 1967. It was followed by a book, The Scavengers and Critics of the Warren Report (1967) and a record album, The Controversy (1967).

In February 1967 Penn Jones published Shirley Martin's An Open Letter To Father Oscar Huber in The Midlothian Mirror.

Shirley Martin was taking Father Huber to task for a published report (see above) that he denied ever meeting her and her children and claiming that he "had no knowledge of such a wound (over Kennedy's left eye)."

Mrs. Martin scathingly wrote: Consequently, Father, your denial of the children and me may lead to trouble yet. We are not accustomed to being called liars, either by a priest or a Hollywood "journalist."


(Also see the article by Penn Jones and Shirley Martin (using information furnished by Bill Barry of the Miami News) that appeared in Forgive My Grief II. It has come to be known as the Milteer story.)

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Contains two taped interviews with Sirley Martin

An Inventory of the Ruth Hyde Paine Marina Oswald Papers, 1963-1968

(2 boxes; 1 linear ft.)

RG 5/109

© Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081-1399 U.S.A.


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  • 1 month later...

Email from Steven Martin, the son of Shirley Martin:

My mom never felt that the death of my sister Vickie was part of the conspiracy. This erroneous piece of information originated with Ruth Paine. My mom never really cared for or trusted Ruth, and I think Ruth was aware of my mom’s feelings toward. Shirley did stop her active involvement in the case following my sister’s death, but it was a result of the natural and terrible grief a parent feels at the loss of child, not because she felt Vickie had been a victim of the conspiracy. My mother continued to study the assassination until her death. As I have mentioned to others, she never really cared who killed Kennedy; she cared who didn’t kill him. She believed, as I do, that Lee did not pull a trigger that day in November.

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I need some help understanding a statement Salandria made about Michael Paine. According to Salandria, Paine said that Oswald was operating as a spy in right wing wing organizations. I read this as Oswald spying on some right wingers, even thought the word Salandria uses is 'in' not 'on'. Anyone have an opinion on this? I am aware that Salandria considered Oswald a rightist, or at least no leftie. I doubt that Michael Paine would have agreed with that, but am not really sure.

On a related topic, I read somewhere on another post that Ruth Paine claimed that Oswald had files at her house on left wing Cubans. Do those files exist? Were they indeed as Paine described?

Thanks for any clarification on these points which I consider important to understanding Oswald, and the Paines.

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