Another Kennedy mystery: Who is Nick Beef?
By JACK DOUGLAS JR.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
FORT WORTH, Texas - The name is etched on a pink granite tombstone only inches from the grave of one of the most notorious killers in American history.
The neighboring gravestone, nearly identical, says merely:
Lee Harvey Oswald was buried Nov. 25, 1963, in east Fort Worth's Rose Hill Cemetery. It was three days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in downtown Dallas and one day after Oswald was fatally shot by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
Oswald's mother, Marguerite, who died Jan. 17, 1981, is buried next to him. The Beef marker is on the other side. It is not clear who placed the Beef tombstone, or exactly when it appeared.
The rectangular tombstones are the same size. Each bears only a name, without the customary inscription of date of birth and death. On holidays, when the cemetery blooms with flowers from loved ones, both plots typically remain barren.
But there is one big difference between the two grave sites:
"Nick Beef's" is empty.
Just about every aspect of Oswald's life and death has been examined and re-examined by reporters, history buffs and conspiracy theorists, all looking for another small clue as to what drove him to kill the president.
But the Beef marker, so close to the infamous grave, is virtually unknown to some of the most veteran scholars of the Kennedy assassination.
"I've just never, ever, run across that name," said Gary Mack, curator of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where Oswald fired the shots into Kennedy's motorcade.
Deby Alexander, general manager of Shannon Rose Hill Funeral Chapel & Cemetery, said no "interment card" is on file for the Nick Beef plot.
"A burial," she said, "has not been done there."
Alexander said she cannot reveal who owns the plot, for privacy reasons. She has heard the unsubstantiated accounts, many of them circulated on the Internet, that the marker was placed by a comedian with the stage name Nick Beef.
So where's the humor in placing a fake grave site next to a man who killed a president?
"We've scratched our heads about this for a long time," said Barb Junkkarinen, a self-described JFK researcher who lives in Forest Grove, Ore.
Junkkarinen said she first saw the Beef marker in November 1998, when she visited Rose Hill while attending a Dallas event commemorating the assassination.
Another assassination buff, Arthur Snyder, a scientist and researcher for Stanford University, said he also noticed the Beef stone in 1998. It wasn't there a year earlier, Snyder said, when he and his wife visited Oswald's grave.
"We were shocked to see it there," said Snyder, of Palo Alto, Calif.
Snyder and Junkkarinen said they were among a group of JFK/Oswald enthusiasts who sought out Rose Hill workers to find out about the new marker.
Junkkarinen said several workers told them that "Nick Beef" was the stage name for a comedian from the Northeast who paid $2,000 for the plot.
The comedian bought the plot, the group was told, as part of an act in which he told audiences they could get directions to Oswald's grave by asking Rose Hill employees for the Beef burial site.
The workers are not allowed to divulge the location of Oswald's grave.
"Only thing is, now they won't tell people where Nick Beef's grave is either!" Junkkarinen wrote on a Web site.
Alexander, the general manager at Rose Hill, acknowledged that curiosity-seekers are not told how to find his grave at the sprawling cemetery, out of respect for his relatives.
"The family is very private about it," she said.
Among the veteran journalists, scholars and members of the entertainment world who have studied the assassination, few know about the "Nick Beef" mystery.
It is a piece of an unsolved puzzle that never came up when Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone was doing his research for the 1991 movie "JFK."
"He's never heard of this guy's name before," said Rob Wilson, a spokesman for Stone.
Ian Griggs, a retired British police officer and co-founder of the overseas research group the Dealey Plaza UK, said he has studied the Kennedy assassination for more than 30 years and remains baffled by the Beef marker.
Like Snyder and Junkkarinen, Griggs said he noticed the gravestone while attending a Kennedy conference in Dallas. He said he got this response when he questioned a Rose Hill worker: "Mr. Beef is not dead."
Computerized property records suggest only one possibility - that a "Nick Beef" might have lived in a high-rise apartment complex in New York during the mid to late 1990s. The spot is in Manhattan's trendy West Village, known for its nightspots, and comedy clubs.
But there is no phone number for a "Nick Beef," and several residents of the complex said they do not remember a neighbor by such a name.
Only a block from the complex is the Comedy Cellar, one of New York's most established stage-comedy clubs, whose featured entertainers have included Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock.
But, as with everything else, when it comes to the name "Nick Beef," the trail quickly turns cold.
Estee Adoram, manager and 23-year veteran employee of the Comedy Cellar, said she doubts that a comic has ever tried to make people laugh about the Kennedy assassination.
She added, "I don't think there was a stand-up comedian by this name."
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Cathy Belcher and Marcia Melton contributed to this report.)