Home Cold War History Meet The Jacobs – The Couple That Befriended Marina Oswald

Meet The Jacobs – The Couple That Befriended Marina Oswald

Meet the Jacobs

The Unites States Information Agency (USIA) is a former intelligence group organized to conduct “foreign opinion research, media reaction reporting, and special evaluations and analysis” during the Cold War.[i] This group first emerged as part of the Coordinator of Information’s (COI) office led by General William Donovan amid WWII. Similar to the Central Intelligence Agency it was reconstituted from minor groups once within that COI’s office but USIA was not created until 1953. They administrated some foreign cultural and educational programs run by the Department of State, used press outlets such as the Voice of America, and gathered worldwide intelligence.

Among the projects USIA supported was the American National Exhibition in Russia held in the course of 1959. The display was presented to demonstrate several aspects of American life to the Russian public and focused on western cultural and technological innovations. Millions of people over the course of months reportedly filled a park in Moscow to observe the gathered displays. Following the exhibition’s successful conclusion one of the USIA’s press officer’s and his family were still present in Russia’s capital until the end of October.

That employee’s name was John Jacobs.    

John Kedzie Jacobs

John Kedzie Jacobs was born April 5, 1918 to farmers Edward and Bertha Jacobs within the New York village of New Paltz. The young man was raised with siblings on a farm while attending a local schoolhouse and eventually New York State’s Highland High School. He would subsequently graduate from Antioch College before he briefly worked in an advertising firm and transitioned from advertising to press work for Gallop during 1940. John despite prior reservations would enlist with the United States Army Air Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He gained employment with the Unites States State Department later that decade to write articles for the Voice of America press service. John K. Jacobs by the 1950s would join the USIA following its transformation from the State Department’s International Information Administration group.

Jacobs would meet his wife Catherine who had immigrated from a Soviet bloc nation to the United States under the name Katia Altschuller. Catherine “Katia” Jacobs was born December 25, 1921 within Bulgaria, resettled to America during the 1930s, and became a citizen by the end of the 1940s. She married John Jacobs amidst 1952 and they had four children by the close of 1959. The entire Jacobs family would travel among the spring of that year to Moscow for a support role in the upcoming American National Exhibition. Officials note that attached to her passport was a memo granting John Jacobs “Top Secret Commerce security clearance” from the State Department to “assume duties as Press Radio Officer”. They were set to return October 30, 1959.

Catherine Jacobs

Lee Harvey Oswald attempts to renounce his American citizenship October 16, 1963 and members of the press quickly learn of his presence. Reporter Priscilla Johnson would be informed by a US consular official the same day Oswald resided in the same hotel she did. This initiated an extensive interview with Oswald and Johnson would report he was a misguided young man, poorly educated, and was out of his depth. United Press International (UPI) reported Oswald’s defection story at length two days following the Jacobs family’s departure. The press quickly seized upon the idea of Oswald being a disillusioned traitor who abandoned the United States and professed his desire to live in Russia. This desire would seemingly be temporary because he returned to America with a new family more than two years later.   

Priscilla Johnson was granted covert Agency approval by 1962, two years later she moves in with Marina Oswald for an extended period, and the during the 1970s publishes a book titled “Marina and Lee” while still falsely claiming she had no official connections.[ii] Yet in every other prior noted instance it was the Oswald family moving in with others and during 1963 they lived in the Texan city of Irving with the Paine family. Ruth Paine had prior invited Marina and her children to live with her family and in time discussed the Oswalds with her sister Sylvia Hoke, employee of the CIA.[iii] Ruth would not be the last person with official connections seeking to host the Oswalds before and following Lee’s public incitements, alleged crime, and death. One later invitation is quite interesting due to many Americans considering the Oswald family pariahs and while there were several people in the US that felt sympathetic, Cold War intelligence agents and their relatives were likely not among them. A pattern of surveillance begun years ago within Moscow seems to have outlived its original target.

John Jacobs in that period was employed by the USIA as the Deputy Director of “America Illustrated” when his wife drew the notice of federal officials. According to investigators Mr. Jacob’s wife invited the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald via a letter in Russian to dinner “just after” the death of President John F. Kennedy. John called the invitation merely a “humanitarian” act on the part of Catherine Jacobs but that is seemingly a deficient explanation. Would an intelligence agent’s spouse invite the wife of a person that damaged American interests prior and allegedly killed its president without consulting her husband? This act during the Cold War might destroy his career and her family’s public reputation but despite these possible consequences the invitation was offered.

Marina Oswald

Mrs. Oswald according to Mrs. Jacobs sent a “lengthy” response letter around Christmas and Marina was invited to visit “any time she happened to be in the Washington D.C.” and that “several letters of correspondence were passed between them”.[iv] A seeming relationship was being established between Catherine Jacobs and Marina Oswald and the latter arrived in the nation’s capital during February of 1964 for scheduled Commission testimony. The prior dinner invitation from the family of John K. Jacobs was among Mrs. Oswald’s planned stops following the conclusion of her official statements.     

Marina Oswald called upon the Jacobs family and notified them her testimony was completed February 6, 1964 and desired to accept their prior invitation for dinner. Yet the Jacobs had other commitments and rescheduled the dinner engagement for the next evening.

One prior commitment Mr. Jacobs had was reporting the details of this upcoming get together to his superiors before it transpired. He also notified the USIA Office of Security (IOS) just hours prior to Marina Oswald’s visit and was informed the contact did not require a security clearance and was thanked for providing such information. The IOS official states “there would appear to be no security consequence but in view of public relations aspect he be certain that his supervisors are well aware of what he was doing. He stated that this had already been taken care of.”[v] Just a single official appears concerned about the potential detrimental potential of what Jacobs was undertaking and it had little to do with “humanitarian” purposes.

Would a simple dinner meeting inspire Jacobs to obtain prior consent from his intelligence superiors or might he use this chance to gather intelligence and cultivate a source. Perhaps the omission of a crucial detail by officials handling the matter would further support this was more than a dining offer. The President’s Commission file did not mention a detail that was included within USIA documents, Catherine did not merely invite Marina and her family to dine but also proposed the Oswalds live with them.[vi] [vii] It seems that almost immediately someone connected to an intelligence official sought to feed and house Mrs. Oswald and her children. Marina visited the Jacobs home during the winter of 1964 and Mr. Jacobs claimed no further contacts were made but the visit likely was more than just a pleasantry.

Secret Service Agent Charles Taylor contacted the USIA in the course of March to investigate the Jacobs matter but reported nothing derogatory. Taylor “emphasized the importance of the Secret Service not being identified with the investigation” to the USIA agent dealing with the matter.[viii] The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a subsequent document review in which the several correspondences and multiple invitations from Catherine Jacobs transformed into just a single meal date. John K. Jacobs retired from the USIA amid 1983 to reportedly again become a farmer and later a writer that died amid 2015. Subsequently released official files provide a greater view of the circumstances surrounding the Jacobs family’s involvement with Marina Oswald and the USIA’s foreknowledge of their plans. Yet nearly all public records about Jacobs neglect to mention the full extent of this peculiar incident or his extensive service for decades within US intelligence groups. 


C.A.A. Savastano

[i]. Records of the United States Information Agency (RG 306), n.d., United States National Archives and Records Administration, archives.gov

[ii]. C.A.A. Savastano, December 5, 2017, The Power of the Press, THR, tpaak.com

[iii]. Consolidated CIA Files, Sylvia Ludlow Hoke, tpaak.com

[iv]. United States Information Agency, November 14, 1966, Jacobs, John Kedzie, NARA ID: 165-10001-10036

[v]. USIA, March 3, 1964, No Title, NARA ID: 165-10001-10033

[vi]. President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, Warren Commission Document 867, Federal Bureau of Investigation Letterhead Memorandum of 17 April 1964, maryferrell.org

[vii]. USIA, March 13, 1964, [R], Oswald, Marina, pp. 1-2,  NARA ID: 165-10001-10032

[viii]. Ibid