It was a tumultuous Friday night at Dallas Police Headquarters, when Lee Harvey Oswald was being led by detectives through a hallway crowded with clamoring news reporters peppering him with questions. Just before he disappeared into another office, he yelled out, "I'm just a patsy!"
It was a short declaration which on the surface seemed to reveal much. Yet since that day it has been the subject of intense speculation. What exactly did he mean?
Some have said that he was just a hapless victim, who unwittingly fell into a patsy trap. Others have elevated him to the status of a hero, a man bravely facing retribution by conspirators enraged at his attempt to stop the assassination.
These interpretations are certainly more credible than the lone-assassin theory advocated by the Warren Commission, yet ultimately they fall short, because they consistently avoid an important question. If he really was an innocent man, why did he not expose the real assassins? It would not have been difficult for him to give the news media the names of his erstwhile associates or any other information pertinent to the truth behind the assassination. Other fall guys never get an opportunity to speak to the press, yet Oswald had many. Time was slipping by, and the perpetrators of the crime were making their getaways. Why did he not speak out?
To answer the foregoing questions is the purpose of this article. The proposition that will be presented here is that Oswald was not an innocent man; instead he was at the very heart of the conspiracy, one of the privileged few who knew the plot in its entirety, including his own role as the patsy. While he was in the custody of the police, it was essential for him to gain complete mastery over his own interrogation, not only to throw the police off the track of the real assassins, but also to direct the investigation towards those who had nothing to do with the crime--the ideological enemeis of the conspirators. For this critical role, I believe that he was eminently qualified.
HE WAS CALM, EXTRA CALM
One would think that a man who had put up a big fight in resisting arrest would have been either scared or angry. Yet if his demeanor following the arrrest is any guide to his frame of mind, then he was not perturbed at all. As he was being driven to the police station, the detectives who were with him in the car noted his uncanny serenity. C.T.Walker said,"He was real calm. He was extra calm. He wasn't a bit excited or nervous or anything." (1) Sgt. Gerald Hill said, "He gave the appearance of arrogance, but he did not talk boastfully. In fact, he talked very little. This was one of the things that stuck out most about him in my mind, was how quiet he did keep." He did, however, protest his arrest. He said, "I don't know why you are treating me like this. The only thing I have done was carry a pistol in a movie."
"Yes, sir, you have done a lot more. You have killed a policeman."
With absolutely no emotion, he said, "Well, you can only fry for that."
"Maybe you will get a chance to find out."
"Well, I understand it only takes a minute."
Someone asked, "Why did you kill the officer?"
He did not answer. He was asked other questions, but he refused to respond to any of them. He just sat in silence for the rest of the way.
When they had arrived at the station, the detectives got the suspect out of the car and formed a wedge around him, guiding him through the crowded basement. Sgt. Hill suggested to him that he could hide his face if he wanted to. He said, "Why should I hide my face? I haven't done anything to be ashamed of." (2)
Detective Walker took him to a small room in the homicide office. After they had both sat down, Walker began by asking him, "Did you kill the officer, because you were scared of being arrested for something?"
"I am not scared of anything. Do I look scared now?" (3)
Thus began more than twelve hours of interrogation, which extended over two days. Those who saw and heard him noticed that he kept his cool throughout the weekend. Dectecitve Richard Sims said, "He conducted himself, I believe, better than anyone I have ever seen during interrogation. He was calm and wasn't nervous." (4) Postal Inspector Harry Holmes said, "Oswald was quite composed." (5) And Detective James Leavelle said, "He was in control of himself at all times. In fact, he struck me as a man who enjoyed the situation immensely and was enjoying the publicity and everything was coming his way." (6) The consistency of these impressions shows that he was neither frightened nor dismayed by the circumstances he found himself in.
HE ALWAYS HAD AN ANSWER
Captain Will Fritz wrote the following remarks concerning Oswald's knowledge of police interrogation methods: "I noted that in questioning him that he did answer very quickly, and I asked him if he had ever been questioned before, and he told me that he had. He was questioned one time for a long time by the FBI after he returned from Russia. He said they used different methods, they tried the hard and soft, and the buddy method and said he was very familiar with interrogation." (7) Yet his shrewd performance in the homicide office indicates that he was far more familiar with the techniques of interrogation than simply having experienced it at the hands of the FBI. Those who watched him noticed his ability at adroitly countering the best efforts of police officials to put him off balance. At least two high-ranking law enforcemnt officials suspected that he had been programmed with situation-specific training. Former Police Chief Jesse Curry told author Anthony Summers in 1977, "One would think Oswald had been trained in interrogation techniques and resisting interrogation techniques." To the same author, D.A. William Alexander had this to say: "I was amazed that a person so young would have had the self-control he had. It was almost as if he had been rehearsed or programmed to meet the situation he found himself in." (8)
That he knew what to say to his interrogators in sindicated by the fact that he could respond to questions as quickly as they were formulated. This was not a sporadic capability, but rather he could do it consistently with every question that was put to him. To those watching him, it must have been a fascination tour de force. Detective Boyd said, "I never saw another man just exactly like him...just as soon as you would ask him a question, he would just give you the answer right back -- he didn't hesitate about his answers. I mean as soon as you would pop him a question, he would shoot you an answer right back and like I said, I never saw a man that could answer questions like he did." (9) According to L.C.Graves, "He was quick to answer and quick to make a remark when he was spoken to or asked a question...He is sharp when it comes to talking to the men. He listened to everything, everybody he saw, and he had an answer by the time you got through aksing him...He didn't hung for words, didn't hesistate at all." (10) Leavelle said, "He did always smile and never hesitated for an answer, always had an answer." (11) And Sims said, "He had the answers ready when you got through with the questions." (12) According to FBI Agent Bookhout, "Anytime you asked a question that would be pertinent to the investigation, that would be the type of question he would refuse to discuss." (13) And Capt. Fritz said, "Every time I asked him a question that meant something, that would produce evidence, he immediately told me he wouldn't tell me about it and he seemed to anticipate what I was going to ask." (14)
One of the last to hear him speak before he died was Harry Holmes, who wrote, "Oswald at no time appeared confused or in doubt as to whether or not he should answer a question. On the contrary, he was quite alert and showed no hesitancy in answering those question which he wanted to answer and was quite skillful in parrying those questions which he did not want to answer. I got the impression that he had disciplined his mind and reflexes to a state where I personally doubted if he would ever have confessed." (15)
During that whole weekend there appears to have been only one time when Oswald seemed to have lost control. It occurred in the homicide offices about three hours after his arrest. A deputy named Roger Craig identified Oswald as the one who left Dealey Plaza in a Nash Rambler station wagon driven by a dark-skinned man. When confronted with Craig's accusation, he was visibly shaken. He had all the dismay of an undercover agent who had just found out that his cover was blown. "Everybody will know me now," he groaned. At this point Craig was escorted out of the office. (16) What happened inside after he left can only be imagined. Whoever was in charge of damage control must have had his hands full trying to prevent this unexpected difficulty from escalating into a crisis. Somehow it was accomplished by bolstering Oswald's original story of leaving the Book Depository in a bus (which was not true) and by impugning Craig's integrity. This required the cooperation not only of Oswald, but also of the Dallas Police.
"YOU'RE THE COP, YOU FIGURE IT OUT."
There were a number of key issues about which Oswald could have given essential information, but chose not to. Such issues included his whereabouts at the time Tippit was killed, the location of the place where he bought or obtained his pistol, the reason he had for bringing it into the movie theater, and his purpose for going to Mexico City. To illustrate his refusal to cooperate, I will focus on police inquiries concerning the name Hidell, which was found on three identification cards and on two mail box rental applications.
As he was being driven from the theater to the police station, he was asked what his name was. He did not answer, but sat in silence. Sgt. Hill asked Bentley to check to see if he had a wallet. Bentley reached down into his left hip pocket and pulled one out. He looked in the wallet and found a card that had the name "Lee Oswald" on it. He pulled out another card and it had the name "Alek Hidell." Since the suspect was not talking, one of the detectives said, "I guess we are going to have to wait until we get to the station to find out who he actually is." (17)
When he was brought into the station, one of the first to interview him was Gus F. Rose. He asked for the suspect's name, and the man said, "Hidell." As Rose examined his identification cards, he saw one card that had the name "Alek Hidell" and another that had "Lee Oswald." Which one was correct? he asked.
The suspect replied, "You're the cop. You figure it out." (18)
He was later identified as Oswald when fellow Book Depositor workers being questioned by police saw him and pointed him out. During that afternoon he was asked about the Hidell name. He said that he had picked it up in New Orleans, while working for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. (19)He declined to answer any questions regarding the draft registration card, which had Hidell's name and Oswald's picture on it. He also did not want to state his reason for carrying the car of what use he made of it.
In the final interrogation session, Holmes asked him if he received any mail or packages addressed to A.J.Hidell.
"No, absolutely not."
"Had one come under that name, could this fellow have gotten it?"
"Nobody got mail out of that box but me; no, sir, maybe my wife, but I couldn't say for sure whether my wife eer got mail, but it is possible she could have."
"Well, who is A. J. Hidell?"
"I don't know any such person."
Holmes showed him the application for a mail box in New Orleans. It had three names on it: Lee Oswald, Marina Oswald, and A. J. Hidell.
"Here this shows as being entitled to receive mail Marina Oswald."
"Well, that is my wife, so what?"
"It also says A. J. Hidell."
"Well, I don't know anything about that."
Capt. Fritz interrupted and said, "What aboutthis card we got out of your billfold? This draft registration card where it shows A.J. Hidell."
Oswald flared up angrily, "Now I have told you all I am going to tell you about the card in my billfold. You have the card yourself, and you know as much about it as I do." (20)
Secret Service Inspector Kelley asked him, "Well, isn't it a fact when you were arrested you had an identification card with his name on it in your possession?"
Oswald grunted and said, "Yes, that's right."
"How do you explain that?"
"I don't explain it." (21)
It is apparent from the above exchange that Oswald must have had some strong reason for concealing the origin of the name. It probably had some deep, esoteric meaning that allowed him to perform some function of his secret activities. (22)
"DON'T BELIEVE ALL THIS SO-CALLED EVIDENCE."
It was Saturday afternoon when Robert Oswald finally got through the red tape in order to see his brother. He was escorted to a cubicle that had a telephone and a glass window. Presently Lee came out and sat in the opposite cubicle. He motioned to his brother to pick up the phone. In a calm voice, Robert heard him say, "This is taped" -- a warning to be cautious in their conversation. After some discussion of various personal matters, Robert asked bluntly, "Lee, what in Sam Hill is going on?"
"I don't know," he said.
"You don't know? Look, they've got your pistol, they've got your gun, they've got you charged with shooting the President and a police officer. And you tell me you don't know what is going on?"
He stiffened and straightened up, and his facial expression was suddenly very tight: "I just don't know what they're talking about," he said firmly and deliberately. "Don't believe all this so-called evidence." (23)
Oswald's contempt for the "so-called evidence" was in stark contrast to the optimistic assessment of police officials, who told the news media that they were building a solid case against Oswald. When asked about the rifle found in the Depository, Oswald denied that he ever purchased it or had it in his possession. He also denied that the paper sack that he carried to work contained a rifle. The only sack he carried to work was the one that contained his lunch. Another item of evidence that did not impress him was a road map which had a mark at Houston and Elm. He said, "Don't tell me there'as a mark near where this thing happened." Fritz asked him to explain the mark, and he said, "What about the other marks on the map? -- I put a number of marks on it. I was looking for work and marked the places where I went for jobs or where I heard there was a job." (24)
When the police found snapshots of him armed with a rifle and pistol and holding two Marxist newspapers, they thought that they had found something significant. Yet when Oswald saw them, he promptly ridiculed them as fakes. He said that someone had taken a picture of him as he was being transferred from office to jail or jail to office. The image of his face was then mounted onto a different body. He knew all about photography and at the proper time he would point out the picture's spurious characteristics. (26)
Capt. Fritz tried to coax Oswald into revealing where the setting of the picture was located. It appeared to be the backyard of some residential building. Yet Oswald remained firm in his refusal to furnish this information. (26) Later Fritz found out from Michael and Ruth Paine that the picture was taken at the apartment at 214 Neely Street. The Oswalds had lived at that location for almost two months during the previous March and April. The next morning, Fritz again asked Oswald about the backyard photo, and again he denied that he had any knowledge of it. He also denied that he ever lived at the apartment on Neely Street. When he was told that friends of his had said that he had indeed lived there, he responded by saying that theywere mistaken. He repeated once more that he never lived there. (27) While it is true that the backyard photos are fakes, it is also true that Oswald was dissembling when he said that he had no knowledge of them. For one thing, they were taken by his wife Marina at their apartment on Neely Street. Secondly, they were found by the police among his possessions at the Paine house. It is doubtful that the police could produce such a clumsy composite as Oswald claimed. Considering the circumstances of their origin and where they were found, it is quite likely that the one who produced these composites was Oswald himself.
"I AM A MARXIST BUT NOT A LENINIST-MARXIST."
From the very first session of the interrogation, Oswald openly declared his allegiance to Castro, fully supporting the Cuban Revolution. He said that he was a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), a socialist organization dedicated to promoting better relations between the United States and Cuba. He had been the secetary of the New Orleans chapter, and his duties were writing letters and collecting dues, which came to a dollar a month. (28) (Actually, he was running a one-man operation.) While passing out FPCC literature on the streets of New Orleans, he got into the altercation with anti-Castro Cubans and was consequently arrested and briefly jailed.
Oswald's commitment to socialism even extended to his choice of lawyers. He said he wanted no other lawyer but John Abt, who was located in New York. He did not personally know Abt, but he knew that Abt was noted fo defending Communists who allegedly violated the Smith Act, a law that made it a felony to promote the overthrow of the US government. He did not want a Dallas lawyer representing him, and he even turned down an offer by his brother Robert to find a lawyer for him. He said that if he could not have Abt, then he would get a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union.
In his final interview on Sunday, Oswald was asked if he was a Communist. He emphatically stated that he was not. "I am a Marxist but not a Leninist-Marxist." In the course of this interview he repeated this statement as many as two or three times. (29) When he was asked what the difference was, he said, "A Communist is a Lenin Marxist and I am a Karl Marxist." (30) When the police were still unable to fathom the difference, he said that it was a long story and it would take too long to explain. Notwithstanding these emphatic pronouncements and instances of past revolutionary activities, it would be a mistake to conclude that he really was a Marxist. Inside the back cover of one of his FPCC pamphlets was a hand-stamped address: FPCC, 544 Camp Street, New Orleans, LA. This was the location of a prominent center for anti-Castro, anti-Communist activities. The very oddity of this address in one of his own pamphlets offers a solid clue as to the true character of his mission in New Orleans: that he was not a Marxist nor was he a Castro sympathizer. He was, in fact, an agent provocateur, working for such right-wing fanatics as David Ferrie and Guy Banister. His ultimate goal was not to serve left-wing organizations, but rather to sabotage them. That he would continue to declare his ties to the FPCC, Cuba, and even the Soviet Union after the assassination indicates that he had no intention of abandoning this mission. Anyone listening to his Marixist procalmations might easily jump to the conclusion that the assassination had been a Communist plot.
Oswald's continuation of his Marxist pretences after he was brought into custody is an an indication thathe was not a hostile patsy with the potential of saying or doing things that could defeat the cover-up. In fact, his part in securing the plot from exposure was so indispensible, that he might be considered thelynchpin of the conspiracy. No doubt he believed that the critically flawed evidence and conflicting eyewitness statements would get him off the hook. When he cried out "I'm just a patsy!" he was merely pretending to be the victim of treachery or entrapment. It is a matter of irony that he was double-crossed anyway. He became a genuine patsy, when the plot against his life came to fruitiion in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters. The man who thought that he could fool the world never realized that he himself could be fooled.
From JFK/DEEP POLITICS QUARTERLY, Vol. 1, No.2. Used by permission of the author. Electronic or other reproduction is prohibited. All rights reserved.
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