Updated: Nov 11, 2020
In researching my book, The Other Oswald, I became intrigued by the connection between Robert Webster and Marina Prusakova (Oswald). After marrying Oswald and immigrating to America, Marina told a friend, Katya Ford, who was part of the Dallas Russian exile community, that her husband Lee had defected while working at a trade exhibition in Moscow. It was Webster who defected while working at a trade exhibition in Moscow, not Oswald. So, it seems logical to assume that, at the very least she was acquainted with Webster well enough to be familiar with his background. Still, it is certainly strange that she would confuse his story with her husband’s. Further suspicion that a link exists between Marina and Webster is fueled by the fact that her address book contained a listing corresponding to Webster’s Leningrad apartment. This book was found among Marina’s possessions during an investigation into her background by U.S. Intelligence officials.
At the time of Webster's and Oswald's defection, U.S. Intelligence, in particular ONI and CIA, were involved in sending false defectors to Eastern block nations as intelligence dangles. The number of these individuals increased radically circa 1960. Soviet Intelligence countered the increase in defectors with a program of their own. They began attaching Soviet women to these defectors when they returned to the U.S.. Was Marina Prusakova one of these feminine “sleeper” agents? In the game of counterintelligence, all is fair in love and war.
According to a CIA memorandum: “…at the time (1960, the Agency) was becoming increasingly interested in watching develop a pattern that we had discovered in the course of our bio (graphical) and research work; the number of Soviet women marrying foreigners, being permitted to leave the USSR, then eventually divorcing their spouses and settling down abroad without returning “home.” …we eventually turned up something like two dozen similar cases.”
Taking a closer look at Marina's life before and up to her meeting of Oswald is enlightening. The “official” story is that seven months after leaving Leningrad and moving to Minsk, she was introduced to Lee Harvey Oswald at a trade union dance at the Palace of Culture in Minsk. Marina said they spoke in Russian and she believed him to be from the Baltic States by his accent, in essence, a native of Russia. An acquaintance, Yuri Mereginski, introduced her to him. Later, when asked who it was that introduced her to Oswald, she couldn’t remember. Even when asked if it was Mereginski, she didn’t recognize the name. The second time she was asked, she did recognize it. But later her mind went blank once again. How could she not remember how she met her husband and who introduced her to him? She also didn’t remember when Lee asked for her hand. Even worse, how could she think she met Oswald at the Moscow Trade Exhibition, thus confusing him with Webster?
I began to wonder why Marina had left Leningrad, a city she had said she loved and moved to Minsk to live with her uncle, who was an MVD official. Marina's version of the story given in Priscilla McMillan's book, Marina and Lee, was that her step-father, whom she lived within Leningrad, threw her out because he wanted to remarry after Marina's mother's death. But Yuri Mereginski said Marina was deported from Leningrad for prostitution. Norman Mailer wrote that her step-father evicted her after an argument in which he called her a prostitute.
Bells went off in my head as I recalled another incident involving Oswald, Webster and a prostitute named Nancy Jane McClain in Cleveland, as revealed by a 1964 FBI report. Is it possible that Webster may have been using Oswald's name in a tryst with a prostitute in Cleveland in 1963?
The entry in Marina's address book coinciding with Webster's Leningrad apartment building was listed under the name “Lev Prizentsev” The address listed was; Kondrat 'yevskiy Prospeckt 7, Apt 63 or Kondrat ‘yevskiy Prospeckt 63, Apt. 7, Leningrad. A CIA document dated May 8, 1964 for Lee J. Rankin concerns “traces” on the addresses found in Marina Oswald’s notebook. The CIA compared them against their international index looking for “traces” and found that the address under the name of Lev Prizentsev was the same as that of Robert Edward Webster. Marina told the FBI in an interview on 17 December 1963, that she met Prizentsev at the rest home near Leningrad (October 1960) and that “he had an amorous interest in Irina Volkova (friend of Marina), who unfortunately was already married”.
Traces: (1. No traces on Prizentsev. (2. Robert E. Webster, who renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1959 when he defected to the USSR and returned to the U.S. as an alien under the Soviet quota in May 1962, claimed to have resided in a three-room apartment at Kondrat ‘vevskiy Prospeckt 63, Apt. 18, Leningrad, during his stay in the USSR.
At first, as stated above, Marina explained that Lev was in love with a girlfriend of hers, Irina Volkova, who was already married, and that was her connection to him. Prizentsev lived in Apartment 7 and Webster and his mistress Vera Platanova in Apartment 18. Another explanation she gave was that Lev was an elderly gentleman she met in a “rest home” near Leningrad. In reality, the CIA found no references or traces on this man. Was Lev Prizentsev actually Robert Webster? Was Webster using this name as an alias, or did she make up the name rather than reveal who it was she was really visiting? Was Lev an acquaintance who acted as a translator for Marina and Webster? Any way you look at it, Marina was entangled with two American defectors. Why is there no mention of this interlude or “Prizentsev” in McMillan’s book Marina and Lee?
Marina denied knowing Webster. However, in his last days, Webster nodded affirmatively when asked by journalist, Dick Russell if he knew Marina. Also, in a phone conversation with Carol Hewitt, Marina queried, “How is he?” when Hewitt told her of a visit to his nursing home.
When Marina left Leningrad and moved to Minsk in August 1959, Webster had not yet arrived in the city. So she had to have visited his apartment at a later date. She did. A close look at her travels shows that Marina went on “holiday” in the fall of 1960 to Leningrad. Can it be a coincidence that once there, she frequently visited a friend who happened to live in the same apartment building as Webster? At this time Webster was living in Leningrad. Marina had not yet met Oswald. Was she being used to seduce an American defector to attach herself to him when he returned to the U.S.? Or was she seeing him as a prostitute or both? There is speculation that Webster may have used prostitutes in the U.S., as the Nancy Jane McClain episode suggests. Was Marina part of the Soviet Intelligence program to send women home as sleeper agents with U.S. defectors? Was she used as a prostitute to get information from an American defector? Did the KGB have a hold on her due to her previous deportation out of Leningrad?
In the vastness of the Soviet Union it seems unlikely that a simple girl of Marina’s age would find herself, by mere chance, in the proximity of two personages as rare as American defectors were at the time. If they had occupied the same city, such an encounter might be plausible. However, considering the distance between Leningrad and Minsk and the difficulties routinely involved in travel throughout Russia at that time, coupled with the brief time-frame overlapping the stay of the two men in her country, it seems an unlikely coincidence.
If Oswald’s Soviet interlude and ease of return were mysterious, Marina’s story is close to unbelievable. Marina Prusakova’s birth certificate lists Severodvinsk as the city of her birth. However, the city wasn’t named Severodvinsk until 1957, and she was born in 1941. A KGB legend? The birth certificate Marina brought to the United States was issued July 19, 1961. Since she had to have one to obtain a marriage license prior to April 30, 1961, Jay Edward Epstein concluded; “It thus seemed that new documents – and possibly a new identity – were furnished to Marina after it was decided that she would accompany Oswald to the United States”.In the middle of all this turmoil, Marina decided to take her annual “holiday” and travel alone to Kharkov, not a garden spot in October, to visit her aunt. As disclosed earlier, her “holiday” the previous year was in Leningrad. There she stayed at a government “Rest House.” Odd that a 19 year old needed to stay in a “Rest House.” It was in October, 1960 while on that “holiday” that she frequented Robert Webster’s apartment building in Leningrad.
The only reliable sources for what actually transpired are the witnesses who were actually there and observed the events of Marina and Oswald's meeting. As previously stated, the man that introduced Marina to Lee was Yuri Merezhinski. He was a medical student like Oswald's friend Ernst Titovets. Merezinski's mother was Professor Lydia Cherkasova. She was head of a laboratory at the Academy of Sciences engaged in classified research and a Communist Party member who rubbed shoulders with Khruschev himself. Old enough to be Oswald's mother, she was giving a lecture that evening at the Palace of Culture after recently returning from the United States. The dance at which Marina met Oswald took place after the lecture. Yuri ran a slide projector from the orchestra pit as a visual aid to his mother's lecture. There are contradicting versions of how Yuri met Lee and how Lee met Marina.
How did Lee meet Yuri Merezinski?
Merezinski's version is that Lee showed up out of nowhere, approached Yuri, introduced himself. Yuri's mother, Lydia Cherkasova, agreed with his account that Lee showed up out of nowhere, approached Yuri, joined him in the orchestra pit, and helped him run the projector. However, a friend of Yuri and Marina, Kostya Bandarin, an anesthesiologist, said that Yuri knew in advance that Lee was coming over. According to this version, Yuri had gone in search of Lee and brought him to the orchestra pit. Marina corroborated Kostya's version saying it was Yuri who asked Lee to the lecture to hear his mother talk about America in the first place. According to Lee's friend, Ernst Titovets, Yuri, having been briefed (KGB) about Oswald, located Oswald and brought him to the orchestra pit.
How did Lee meet Marina?
Yuri and Marina said that Lee met Marina on the dance floor. However, Kostya and Professor Cherkasova said that Marina showed up and was introduced by Yuri to Lee in the orchestra pit. Wherever it happened, it was Merezinski that introduced Marina to Lee. Titovet's agreed and said the two were friends.
Suitors or Conspirators?
Titovets accompanied Oswald to the dance. He did not go to the lecture, however, and was not privy to whether Lee and Marina had already met in the orchestra pit. At the dance, he and Oswald became separated in their search for girls to dance with. Titovets was conversing with an attractive girl when Lee interrupted him and asked Ernst to follow him to another area of the building, ostensibly to act as a translator. The object of this discourse was a beautiful Russian girl with a bouffant hairdo and a red dress. Titovets observed that Marina was surrounded by a small group of what Marina described in the book Marina and Lee as suitors. These were Yuri's and Marina's friends and included Kostya Bandarin, Sasha Peskarev as well as Yuri. Titovets thought it odd that these suitors never interfered with Lee's advances toward Marina and did not act competitive. He felt that they seemed to be there to see to it that nobody got in the way of her courting the American. This seems odd, particularly in the case of Sasha, who was said to be in love with her. Marina, at first, seemed uninterested in Lee. Yuri perceived that she was anticipating the arrival of Anatoly Shpanko, whom was Marina's current love interest. But eventually she warmed to Lee and gave him her telephone number.
There are different versions of what happened after the dance. Apparently, Lee and a couple of the suitors walked Marina home. However, Yuri tells of a party they attended at his mother's apartment. It's not clear if Lee was invited by Yuri or by his mother, whom Oswald had carried on a conversation with after the lecture. She said she had spoken to Oswald about the kind of research she was engaged in. This is particularly intriguing. Would a Communist party member involved in classified projects be discussing those projects with an American defector who was possibly a spy? Would she invite him to her home? No foreign contacts would be tolerated to any person in her position during the cold war. Cherkasova had admitted she was routinely in touch with the KGB.
Informants or Patriots?
Titovets portrayed himself as Oswald's friend and would lead us to believe he did not inform or spy on him. However, he also stated that if asked to do so, any of his peers would assume it their patriotic duty to help their country in this way. Oswald was no dummy and suspected, correctly, that his apartment was bugged. In fact, he and Titovets spent time trying to find the listening devices. He also stated that it was he that had invited Lee to the dance. The KGB would have known this from the bugs in Lee's apartment. Let's take a look at the other's associated with the meeting of Lee and Marina.
Kostya Bandarin collected pornographic pictures as a teenager. He had quite a collection. Someone squealed on him and Capt. Nikolayev of the KGB extracted his collection and used it to blackmail him. He was likely manipulated into obtaining information about Oswald and aiding in connecting Oswald with Marina.
Lydia Cherkasova and her son, Yuri Merezinski, were KGB connected. It may have been Yuri who approached Lee and invited him to attend the lecture. It was Yuri who introduced him to Marina.
Sasha's role is not clear, but the fact that he made no attempt to compete with Lee for Marina, even though he was in love with her, says volumes.
Marina herself would have to have been in collusion with the machinations going on at the dance. Marina's story is that she didn't know Lee was an American when she met him. But Yuri said that when he introduced them he told her Lee was an American. Someone is lying.
Titovets didn't like Marina and found her conniving and shallow. He believed she wanted, all along, to go to America as much or more than Lee. After only about a month of marriage Oswald revealed that he wanted to return to the US. Marina had no objection.
I think that there is plenty of evidence that Marina was a Soviet dangle used as bait to lure first Webster, and then Oswald into taking her back to the U.S. We now know that such a program existed as a response to the fake defector programs of the ONI and CIA. We can also perceive that Marina wanted to go to the U.S. and once there would stay and be useless to the KGB as a “sleeper.” She wanted all the material goods America had to offer; TV's, appliances, clothes, cars etc.. She was probably chosen for this project by her uncle, an MVD official. Or possibly she was blackmailed by the KGB when she was deported from Leningrad for prostitution. In an interview with Ernst Titovets, Yuri Merezenski related that; “Marina was sent out from Leningrad in twenty-four hours for prostitution with a foreigner. She was in a jam and came to Minsk to stay with her uncle.” He went on to say, “We call it 101 Kilometers—which means being sent very far away. From Leningrad. She came to Minsk with four other people who were sent out of Leningrad together. She was part of a group. Two young men and two women. Her uncle worked for MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs). That is why she was privileged to come to Minsk and not 101 Kilometers. 101 Kilometers means you have to cut trees in forest. A labor camp for prostitutes and people who don't work. You are sent out of big cities to work hard labor. She was seen regularly in Hotel Leningrad and they told her to leave because of foreigners.” Kostya Bandarin told Norman Mailer that the foreigner was a Georgian. He said that Marina's uncle helped to hush it up and it was he who saved her from the labor camp. However, the price derived from the KGB may well have been to take part in the sleeper agent program.
Let's speculate. In 1959, Marina apparently met Robert Webster at the Moscow Trade Exhibition. We can assume this because she told a friend that she met her husband, Lee there. Lee wasn't there. Webster was. I could find no evidence that Marina visited Moscow in 1959. But either she did or Webster told her about the Trade Exhibition in 1960 when she saw him in Leningrad. It's not clear what the date was since Webster was there three times; March 59, May/June 59, and July 59. The last time was when he defected. If they met the 2nd or 3rd time, Webster was already involved with Vera Platanova and possibly rejected Marina's advances. In October 1960 she likely met him again several times at his apartment building in Leningrad. By then Vera was a permanent fixture. Perhaps during one of these visits, she discovered that Webster already had a wife in the U.S. and therefore could not bring home a Soviet bride. Perhaps she was visiting him as a prostitute, repeating the behavior with “foreigners” that had resulted in her deportation from Leningrad in 1959. Webster was somehow involved with a prostitute in Cleveland, Ohio in 1963.
So, Marina changed objectives and focused on Oswald instead. In March of 1961, Marina's uncle, who is an MVD colonel, “encouraged” her to go to a dance at the Palace of Culture in Minsk. There she met, had a whirlwind romance with, and soon married Lee Oswald, another defector. Oswald, in turn, brought her to America.
After the assassination, one of the first people investigated by the FBI as a suspect in the JFK case is Robert Webster, whom they believed knew Oswald in Russia. They checked out his activities on the day of the assassination. Obviously, they suspected he may have been involved.
Was Marina coerced or blackmailed by Soviet Intelligence into developing a relationship with an American defector in order to spy on him and subsequently accompany him in his return to the U.S.? Did she, in turn, use this as a venture to escape the Soviet Union and defect to the United States and live the American dream?
March 59-Webster's first trip to Moscow.
May-June 59- Websters 2nd trip to Moscow.
July 59-Webster's 3rd trip to Moscow.
Aug 59-Marina moves to Minsk.
September 59-Webster to Leningrad. Lived at Baltiskaya Hotel.
October 59- Oswald and Webster defect. Webster moves to Kandratievski Apartment in Lenningrad on Oswald's birthday, October 18.
October 60-Marina's holiday in Lenningrad.
April 61-Marina and Oswald married.
October 61-Marina's holiday in Kharkov to visit aunt.
Oswald's Tale, Norman Mahler
Oswald: Russian Episode, Ernst Titovets
Interloper, Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, Peter Savodnik
Marina and Lee, Priscilla McMillan & Marina Oswald
The Other Oswald, A Wilderness of Mirrors, Gary Hill
The presenter in the TV program “The Way It Was” aired over the ORT channel from Mosow in Febraury 2001 said that according to his information Marina Prusakova was deported from Leningrad, where she had resided before, because of her relationship with a foreigner. After that she went on being under the KGB surveillance. See Oswald's Russian Episode, Ernst Titovets, Mon Litera Publishing House See The Other Oswald, A Wilderness of Mirrors, Gary Hill, TrineDay books, Chapter One.
An Apartment Permit shows Platanova living with Webster at 18 Kondratievskii Prospect, No. 63 as of 12/11/59.