Ep 25: Oswald In Jail
Today on Solving JFK, we’ll explore what happened in the Dallas Jail from the time Oswald arrived from the Texas Theater on Friday afternoon until he was shot by Ruby on Sunday morning. We’ll look at questions like:
Why wasn’t Oswald given a lawyer? How long was he interrogated? What do the known interrogation notes say? And who did Oswald call in jail?
Did law enforcement have reason to know that someone was going to kill Oswald?
Overview of Oswald in Dallas PD Detention
“I really don’t know what the situation is. Nobody has told me anything except that I’m accused of murdering a policeman. I know nothing more than that. I do request someone to come forward and give me legal assistance.
Reporter: Did you kill the president?
“No, I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about it was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question.”
That was the first recording of Oswald on Friday, November 22 - the day of the assassination at the Dallas Police department. Later that day around 8pm as Oswald was being transferred from one room to another, he had this exchange with reporters in the hallway:
“I would like some legal representation and these police officers have not allowed me to have any. I don’t know what this is all about.
Reporter: Did you shoot the president?
Oswald: I work in that building.
Reporter: Were you in the building at the time?
Oswald: Naturally, if I work in that building, yes sir.
Reporter: Did you shoot the president?
Oswald: No, they’ve taken me in because of the fact that I lived in the Soviet Union. I’m just a patsy!
Although he had requested a lawyer many times, he still had not been given access to one as of 8 o clock that Friday evening. Oswald had initially requested New York lawyer John Abt, who was known for his defense of political prisoners. If not Abt, Oswald’s second choice was someone from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Incidentally, ACLU lawyers did come to the Dallas jail on Friday night to meet with Oswald, but were told by the Dallas Police that Oswald did not want an attorney. So, the ACLU left without ever speaking to him. Oswald never had a lawyer. And the Dallas Police directly prevented him from having one – whether it was intentional or not.
But Oswald’s lack of legal counsel didn’t stop the Dallas Police and FBI from questioning him. From the time he was arrested on Friday at 2pm until Sunday morning around 11am when he was shot, Oswald was interrogated for 12 hours. During this interrogation, there were no recordings made or notes taken.
The only source of information about what happened during those 12 hours are reports that were written after the fact from memory by some of the people who were present during some parts of the interrogations. So, the record that we have of Oswald’s interrogation is cloudy and imperfect at best. And there are no notes at all regarding the interrogation sessions that began on Friday at 4:20, 6:20, and 7:40.
What we do know about the sessions from the notes that have been cobbled together is that Oswald reiterated to police the same things he said to the reporters on camera - that he was a patsy, that he did not shoot the president or Officer Tippit, and that he had previously been in the Soviet Union. There were five Secret Service Agents and four FBI agents who were present for parts of Oswald’s interrogations, but, for whatever reasons, none of those agents were ever questioned by the Warren Commission or even asked to submit affidavits about their interrogation of Oswald.
Here are some of the highlights of what Oswald said during the interrogation according to the typed notes of Captain Fritz:
- Oswald said he was having lunch on the first floor at the time the president was shot.
- Said he was on the second floor drinking a coca cola when the police came in.
- When asked why he left the building, Oswald said that with all of the excitement, he didn’t think there would be much work left to do for the rest of the day.
- Oswald said he did not own a rifle, but he did own a shotgun when he lived in Russia.
- Oswald admitted that he did own a pistol, which he picked up before he went to the Texas Theater. When asked why he brought the pistol, he said quote “You know how boys do when they have a gun. They just carry it.” He said he bought the pistol a few months earlier in Fort Worth.
- Oswald said that he had been in Russia for 3 years and that he did write to the Russian Embassy. He said he spoke Russian and got newspapers from Russia.
- He said that he belonged to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He said he picked up the name Alex Hidell while he was in New Orleans working for the Fair Play for Cuba organization.
- Oswald denied bringing curtain rods or any sort of long package to work on the day of the assassination.
- Oswald said the reason he lived in a rooming house away from his wife and children was because his wife needed help with the kids, and Mrs. Paine wanted to learn Russian, so it was a nice arrangement for both of them.
- Oswald refused to take a polygraph test.
- Fritz mentions at the end that he had to leave the room frequently to talk to other witnesses and officers as they came in. So, there are blocks of time when Oswald was interrogated that are not captured at all in Fritz’s notes.
Oswald’s Phone Call To Raleigh
Oswald was allowed to make a few phone calls while he was in jail. One of those calls continues to be the subject of much speculation. It has to do with a call that Oswald tried to make to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Switchboard operators Alveeta Treon and Louise Sweeney were working at Dallas City Hall. The switchboard received a call from Oswald at the Jail. There were two men in suits who were there that day who demanded to listen in on the call. Alveeta Treon says that she saw her co-worker, Mrs. Sweeney, unplug and disconnect Oswald’s call without ever trying to put the call through. Sweeney, however, did write down the numbers that Oswald tried to call. Then, Sweeney tore the page off her note pad and threw it in the waste basket.
After Mrs. Sweeney left work, Treon retrieved the slip of paper so that she would have a keepsake of the historic event. Then, Treon’s slip of paper was provided to Sherman Skolnick during a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The slip says “John Hurt in Raleigh, North Carolina, 419-834-7430 or 833-1253”. The first number was for a John David Hurt. The second was for John William Hurt.
While there is nothing particularly notable about John William Hurt, Warren Report critics point out that John David Hurt served as a US army counterintelligence special agent during World War 2. HSCA lawyer, Surell Brady, who was in charge of investigating the Raleigh call for the HSCA, said the fact that Hurt had been in the counterintelligence service was QUOTE “provocative.”
Victor Marchetti is the former special assistant to the deputy director of the CIA who resigned in 1969 in disillusionment and wrote “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence” which was heavily redacted and censored by CIA. Marchetti says Oswald was following the standard intelligence practice of contacting a cut out – a clean intermediary with no direct involvement in the operation – when he contacted John Hurt.
This sounds like a big deal. Oswald uses one of his precious calls while in jail to reach out to some random guy who just happens to have a background in military intelligence? Well, it’s actually cloudier than that.
John Hurt was interviewed in 1980 by Grover Proctor, Jr. and he denied knowing anything about Oswald trying to call him. By 1963, Hurt was completely disabled according to the Veteran’s Administration and was out of work. He was also an alcoholic. After John Hurt died in 1981, his wife told researcher Henry Hurt that John had called the Dallas jail to speak to Oswald because he was so upset after President Kennedy was killed.
Ok, so it sounds like this Raleigh call to John Hurt is maybe a big nothingburger after all. Hurt’s wife says that the only reason Oswald had Hurt’s number was because Hurt himself had called Oswald at the jail.
What I don’t understand about this explanation from Hurt’s wife is that Oswald provided two phone numbers and one name to the operator, but both numbers were for that same name. Why would Oswald provide two phone numbers for two different John Hurts to the operator, if John D. Hurt had just called and left only hisphone number for Oswald to call back? Why would John D. Hurt know the phone number for John W. Hurt and leave that number, especially since the two men were not related and didn’t know one another.
We must choose between either this hard to believe tale about Hurt calling Oswald and leaving another number for another John Hurt in Raleigh along with his own number OR Oswald calling an intelligence cut out who was a completely disabled alcoholic at the time.
Law Enforcement Warnings About Killing Oswald
On the morning of Sunday, November 24, 1963, Jack Ruby shoots and kills Oswald in the basement of the parking garage as Oswald is being transferred to the county jail. But, aside from this being the transfer of the accused assassin of the President of the United States, were there any other reasons for police to have been worried about potential assassins making attempts on Oswald’s life?
The quick answer is yes. There were three anonymous threats called in overnight in the hours immediately before Oswald was shot – one to the local FBI office, one to the Sherriff’s office, and the other to the Dallas Police. The calls came from an unidentified man who warned that a committee had decided to QUOTE “kill the man that killed the President.”
The Warren Report doesn’t tell us much about the threat received by the FBI – just that an FBI agent relayed that threat to the Dallas police. But the warning call to the Sheriff’s department was specific. According to Sheriff’s Officer Perry McCoy, QUOTE “at 2:15 am, I received a call from a person who stated that he was going to kill Oswald ‘while he was in the process of being transferred to the county jail’ and that he wanted the department to have the information so that none of the deputies would get hurt. His voice was deep and coarse.”
A third call was placed to Dallas Police dispatcher Billy Grammer on Saturday night. According to Grammer, he got a phone call that night saying QUOTE “You have to change the plan. If not, we are going to kill him.” Grammer personally knew Ruby. And the anonymous caller said Grammer’s name when he spoke to him. The next day after Ruby killed Oswald, Billy Grammer identified Jack Ruby as the anonymous person who called into Dallas police dispatch.
Here’s Grammer in The Men Who Killed Kennedy talking about the incident:
I thought I recognized the voice and at the same time I could not put a face or a name with the voice. As we talked he began telling me that we needed to change the plans on moving Oswald from the basement. That he knew of the plans to make the move and if we did not make a change the statement he made precisely was “we are going to kill him.”
No sooner than I turned it on and they were telling that Jack Ruby had killed Oswald. And I suddenly realized knowing Jack Ruby the way I did this was the man I was talking to on the phone last night. At that time, I put the voice with the face and I knew within myself that Jack Ruby was the one who made that call to me the night before. I think it was obvious because he knew me and I knew him and he called me by name over the telephone. And seeing this and knowing what I knew and what he had said to me, it had to be Jack Ruby.
This seems like a smoking gun that implicates Ruby in a possible conspiracy – especially since the caller used the phrase “we are going to kill him”. But, there are a few issues with putting too many eggs in the Billy Grammer basket. First, if Ruby was part of a conspiracy to silence Oswald, why would he call the police to warn them? Wouldn’t that potentially make his job of killing Oswald on behalf of the conspiracy harder? The idea of this phone call happening doesn’t really support Ruby being part of a conspiracy, unless you want to go full-blown conspiracy and say that Ruby wanted to have it in the record that there were other people helping him by leaving this crumb trail. That’s an interesting argument, but, based on what we know right now, its too speculative for me to rely on.
The other issue with Billy Grammer’s story is that there’s no copy of Grammer’s police report about the person he said was Jack Ruby calling in on Saturday night. But Grammer is certain that he wrote a report and that the incident happened. Here he is talking to a local TV station a few years ago:
Reporter: Dallas PD had told the public that Oswald was going to be transferred by armored vehicle. What the public did not know was that armored vehicle was a decoy. Oswald would be hidden and transferred in another vehicle.
Grammer: This guy that called knew about that and told me about it.
Reporter: Grammer got a fellow high ranking police officer to listen in on the phone. Then he typed up a report and they gave it to police chief Jessie Curry.
Grammer: Chief picked it up and he looked at it maybe for 10 seconds and he said “Oh, there’s nothing to that. And laid it back down.” So we said ok and we walked out.
Like many aspects of this case, what you believe about this late night phone call comes down to what inference you make about whether Grammer is telling the truth. But, even if you think Grammer is being honest - and I do - this incident is just one more data point to find try to get at Ruby’s motive and whether he killed Oswald on his own - or he was put up to it by someone else.
NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: We’ll focus our attention on Jack Ruby. What was Ruby up to the weekend of the assassination - before he would eventually kill Oswald on Sunday morning?
How did Ruby get himself into a position to make that shot? And is there reason to believe that Ruby’s relationship with police officers allowed him to get access?
Why did Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald?
 Rush to Judgment, 1:02  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbR6vHXD1j0  Jim Bishop, Day Kennedy Was Shot, at 259-60, 343, 393; JFK and the Unspeakable, James Douglass, at 364. (ACLU inquired with DPD to see if Oswald was being deprived counsel. DPD told ACLU chapter president Gregory Lee Olds that “Oswald was informed of his rights and free to seek a lawyer.” (7H 322-325))  Id.  Warren Report at 180.  Id. at 598-636  Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p223.  CE 2003, p161  https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth340577/m1/3/  https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth340577/m1/17/  Pat Stith, “Oswald May Have Tried to Call Raleigh Man from Dallas Jail,”Raleigh News and Observer (July 17, 1980), p11, Grover B. Proctor, Jr, “The Phone Call That Never Was,” Raleigh Spectator (July 17, 1980)  Proctor, “The Phone Call That Never Was”, p6  Id.; Douglass at 365.  Grover B. Proctor, Jr., “Oswald’s Raleigh Call,” Raleigh Spectator (July 24, 1980), p5.  Id. at 9  See Proctor’s website for many primary source documents related to the Raleigh call: http://www.groverproctor.us/jfk/jfk-raleighcall.html  Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, at 244-45; https://www.jfk-assassination.net/Raleigh.htm  http://www.groverproctor.us/jfk/jfk-brady.html  Warren Report at 209  Id.  Sherrif’s Officer Perry McCoy, 11/24/63 report. (Decker Exhibit, 5323 p 537-539).  https://www.ktbs.com/community/hometown-patriot/retired-dallas-officer-billy-grammer-remembers-the-call-that-couldve-stopped-killing-of-jfks-assassin/article_f428d63e-e9ea-11e8-ac79-57eca10df1f5.html  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEjT7XCN_R0  https://www.ktbs.com/community/hometown-patriot/retired-dallas-officer-billy-grammer-remembers-the-call-that-couldve-stopped-killing-of-jfks-assassin/article_f428d63e-e9ea-11e8-ac79-57eca10df1f5.html