In the spring of 1963, Judyth Vary Baker worked with Lee Harvey Oswald at Reily Coffee Company in New Orleans, starting their jobs on the exact same day. Ms. Baker says it was also the start of something much larger: a steamy summer-long love affair with Mr. Oswald that ended when the accused assassin of president John F. Kennedy was ultimately shot dead. Her story, described in a 600-page book entitled Me & Lee: How I came to know, love and lose Lee Harvey Oswald, offers a detailed account of her romance with Mr. Oswald and what she says was a plan to save the president's life gone awry. Ms. Baker, now almost 70, is visiting Toronto on what would have been Mr. Oswald's 72nd birthday Tuesday in an attempt to clear his name.
Why have you chosen this moment to publicize your story?
I am sick of the lies that have been told about Lee. I saw the film JFK. I saw Lee was still being blamed. I realized I had to speak out. I lay out the evidence on the bed. I knelt down, I prayed to God. How in the world could I tell people this and stay alive? I shook from head to foot I was so scared. Also, early on I was told I would get a lot of money if I would say that Lee Oswald did kill Kennedy. I had refused. Later, I decided to write the book. I was going to give it to my son and. hopefully. after I died he would publish it. But then I realized he didn't know a darn thing about what was real and what was not. I had to do this myself.
And why do it in Toronto?
I can't go to the United States for my family's safety and for mine. I'm hopeful that people will hear my story and understand that Lee was actually someone that tried to save the president.
What does your family think of you and your story?
One of my sons isn't talking to me. He thinks I might have helped Lee kill the president.
Who do you believe assassinated JFK?
A coup occurred in the United States by people who wanted to get rid of Kennedy because they thought he was no good. Oswald was similarly demonized. They tried to say he was a lone nut. I am telling you he was someone who liked people, who loved children and cared about his country.
Take us back to the beginning. How did you first meet Lee Harvey Oswald?
I was 19. He was 23. He had a pretty wife, a young child and had penetrated the Soviet Union as a spy. I met him in New Orleans. There was chemistry between us. We both had miserable marriages. We became lovers. I could play chess and knew some Russian and resembled his wife. I cared about my country desperately, like he did. Nobody cared about America's safety and the president more than he did.
Lee Harvey Oswald was a spy, but you claim you also became involved in a CIA plot to kill Fidel Castro. What was your role?
I was working on a project that was sponsored by the CIA. I didn't know it at the time. The idea was to inject Castro with a cancer-causing material and we actually isolated this material. The lab that I was working in – in an apartment – was actually part of a CIA ring of laboratories.
After the plot to kill Castro failed, the focus shifted to JFK?
The same teams that hated Castro hated Kennedy. Oswald knew if they couldn't kill Castro in time that they would turn and kill Kennedy. Oswald decided to penetrate this group as a spy. He was invited to be among the group that was to literally shoot Kennedy. He was not a good shot. He suspected he was being set up.
You maintained your silence for many years. Why?
I saw Lee shot to death on television. Mary Sherman was involved with me in the cancer-research project. She was violently murdered the very day the Warren Commission came to New Orleans asking who wants to talk about the Kennedy assassination. Of course nobody who legitimately knew what was going on dared say a thing after you saw Mary's body – set on fire, stabbed and her right arm missing.
Why should people believe you? What's not to say you are somebody who is intelligent, but duplicitous, and concocted a very detailed story?
Why would I have given up my career and family and life when all I had to say was "Lee Oswald did it" and I'd be a rich woman? I loved him. I am going public with this story because of love.
This interview has been edited and condensed.