For some years – actually decades – there have been online discussions of what was described as an effort by Ruth Hyde Paine to contact the Navy about Lee Oswald prior to his travel to Russia. That has been part of the overall discussion of the Paine’s being intelligence connected and having had some long term role in either monitoring or manipulating Lee Oswald. The problem with the early contact story was that while documents were referred to in regard to that story, none of the dialogs provided any detail, nor were the documents themselves available.
Recently that rumor and discussion resurfaced and fortunately a couple of my research community friends were able to provide links to documents that were declassified in 1992 and released in 1994. The documents make it clear while the Navy/ONI had held at least one memorandum on the purported contact, that document was simply a copy of information from an FBI inquiry. The FBI had made that inquiry based on unsolicited information from an FBI source.
The original FBI informant (Edward Cronk) appears to have advised the FBI that Ruth Hyde Paine actually became a pen pal of Lee Oswald as early as 1957, acting as a member of the Young Friends Movement of Philadelphia. That would have been at a point where the she was attending summer sessions at the University of Pennsylvania and studying Russian. Edward Cronk was listed as serving as the Executive Secretary for the Young Friends Movement of Philadelphia.
Cronk put the pen pal contact in the context of the Young Friends group’s interest in relaxing East-West tensions. As background, Cronk stated that he had first met Ruth Hyde Paine in Indiana, in 1955, with both of them being members of the Young Friends Movement at the time. The FBI confirmed that Ruth Paine did take a six hour summer course in Elementary Russian at that time. Of course both 1955 and 1957 were well before Lee Oswald went to Russia, and before even his Marine buddies in Japan became aware of his Russia and Russian language interests.
Cronk stated that he was aware that Ruth Hyde had become married and that she had moved to a residence in Dallas. However he stated he had no knowledge about her other than that nor anything about the association of Lee Oswald with the Paine’s in Dallas. Most confusingly Cronk stated that it was Lee Oswald and his wife who got in touch with the Ruth Paine and her husband though the pen pal program of the Young Friends movement.
Nothing in the initial FBI summary document on Cronk’s information resolves the issue of what year a contact would have been made between Oswald and Ruth Hyde Paine, who initiated it or whether it was via letter before or when Oswald was in Russia. As a follow up in its inquiry into the Paine’s and Oswald’s, FBI interviews in Dallas produced no evidence to confirm that there had been a pen pal connection between Ruth Hyde Paine and Lee and Marina Oswald prior to their personal introduction to the couple at a party in Dallas in spring, 1963.
Based on those findings, Cronk was re-interviewed by the FBI and at that time stated that he had no evidence that Ruth Hyde Paine had corresponded with Lee Oswald while he was in Russia. Cronk did add the detail that he himself had been a pen pal of Ruth Paine prior to her marriage but had not corresponded with her since 1957, nor was he involved in the Young Friends program after that year – he had simply heard she had taken a Russian language course in Philadelphia. Cronk does not appear to have been challenged as to why he made his original report to the FBI or why he stated such correspondence between Oswald and Ruth Paine had occurred as he described in that report.
In the end it’s hard not to view Cronk as having made a highly speculative report to the FBI (and interesting to wonder why they had considered him an informant), triggering an inquiry that went nowhere, but which did somehow generate the rumor of a very early contact between Ruth Hyde Paine and Lee Oswald, prior to his trip to Russia – in spite of Cronk’s remark that the correspondence he described was between Oswald and Ruth Hyde Paine while he was in Russia.
Not the sort of accuracy and reliability the FBI would expect in a confidential informant….but seemingly enough to generate years of discourse and speculation within JFK research.