The Possessions of Lee Harvey Oswald: Mystery Items

After being collected, Oswald’s possessions were brought in by Dallas police to be inventoried. The items were listed in a handwritten ledger and cataloged in a typewritten list. (These lists are available for view at the Texas History Portal website.)1 455 items were given an inventory number and photographed, individually, by the Dallas Police Department (DPD) on November 24 and 25. On November 26, all of Oswald’s items were received by the FBI in Dallas. Five rolls of film, comprising the visual record of the physical evidence, were given to the FBI to be developed and were not returned, despite the fact that the film was DPD property. The Bureau had agreed to return copies of the film, but the images of many items were missing. Over the years, the FBI would sporadically send photographic prints of the items to the DPD to (supposedly) complete their collection. Many of the items would be used as exhibits during the Warren Commission hearings, however, some would not.

In the years after the assassination, interest in Lee Harvey Oswald and his role in history has not diminished. Beyond their obvious historic value, objects owned by the accused man have a collectible and monetary value. Marguerite Oswald had discussed her desire to sell some of her documents which related to her son during her Warren Commission testimony. By 1965, she placed some items in auction with the prestigious New York autograph dealer, Charles Hamilton. The list contained some high-quality “collectibles” that, according to the auction catalog, “offer(ed) a unique opportunity to collectors of Presidential items who seek unusual or important display pieces.”2 Among the objects to be sold were several pieces of correspondence between mother and son, certificates, and hand signed manuscripts. Some of the items had been Warren Commission exhibits, still marked with the panel’s pencil notations. The CIA took notice of the auction, wondering if Marguerite was “strapped for cash.”3 In an effort to prevent future sales of items that were deemed to be of historic or legal value, acting Attorney General Ramsey Clark signed off on Public Law 89-318; 79 Stat. 1185, in which he “determined that the national interest requires the entire body of evidence considered by the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy and now in the possession of the United States to be preserved intact.”4 The act took control of Oswald’s belongings, finding them a permanent home at the National Archives. A published notice of the law included a list that comprised an inventory of the items related to the case which remained in federal control. Some entries on the list ask more questions than they answer. There were also some items that had been given to the FBI that seemed to have disappeared.

Image result for Emerson RBZ radio
Emerson RBZ receiver.

One such piece of evidence, given Inventory Number 11198G, was recorded as an “electronic device of an unknown nature.” It was listed as having a brown plastic case that was broken. (This item should not be confused with Oswald’s Soviet radio that was listed separately in inventories.) It was handed over to the FBI on the 26th, but little, if any, evidence exists as to the usage, origin, or nature of this “electronic device,” or what its relationship to Lee Oswald could have been. One strong possibility is that it was an Emerson RBZ military radio receiver, generally used for covert communications, and feature a brown Bakelite plastic case. This was not the only object that disappeared. A pay stub from the American Bakeries company was listed within the inventories as being found on Oswald when he was arrested. It was dated for August of 1960, while Oswald was living in the Soviet Union. Evidently, the voucher had no name upon it, instead featured the Social Security number of a James Jackson, who had lived in the same Neely St. building as Oswald. No photograph of this item was saved, its whereabouts are unknown. The same fate was met by another mysterious piece of evidence, a top to a box from Cox’s Department Store of Fort Worth. The meaning of this box was not fully explained or understood, although it was listed as being found at the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Evidently, images of this item were not present on the rolls of images taken of the evidence; indeed, like the pay voucher, it did not even get an official inventory number. This item remains unaccounted for, although, buried in the list that accompanied the 1965 preservation act is an entry for FBI Item B-19: “Top of yellow box, stamped inside “R-42, Mar. 24 ’55.” It is unclear if these items are related.

Dollar_bill_halves
Note regarding dollar bill fragments found on Oswald.

According to a note found among the inventory paperwork concerning Oswald’s possessions, the accused assassin had halves of two one-dollar bills in his wallet. Both of these items have disappeared. Many observers, including researcher John Armstrong, have felt that these fragments were to have been used as some form of signal for a rendezvous, a sort of spy ID. (The above-mentioned Cox’s box top has also been theorized to have been such a device.) While evidence for these fragments are scant, it is known that, as reported in the Sedalia (Missouri) Democrat of April 9, 1969, counterfeit $10 bills (1963 Series) were passed in Sedalia which featured the same serial number as one of the Oswald bills (F38355215A). This strongly indicates that Oswald may have been involved in some way with (or possibly investigating) a counterfeiting operation at the time of the assassination.

A US Marines mess pass, made out to “Sgt. Oswald” for “Zebra NCO”, dated September of 1959, was found at the Paine home. This document is indeed curious, for PFC Lee Oswald, who was a Marine at that time, never achieved the rank of sergeant. His brother, Robert, did, although he exited the Marines in 1955. The Zebra was a club in Yokohama, Japan established for non-commissioned officers (NCO’s), and was frequented by military personnel from Atsugi, where Oswald was stationed. The card was issued the month following his release from the brig. He had been punished because of an incident in which he spilled a drink on a sergeant at the Bluebird Café in Yamoto, Japan. Rumors of a love affair between Oswald and a Japanese barmaid who worked at the Queen Bee Club (another officer’s club) were, evidently, good gossip material around the barracks at Atsugi, but have never been confirmed.5 Oswald’s off-base interactions with his fellow Marines have never thoroughly been explored. This card could have shed further clues into Oswald’s activities in Japan; however, it was not entered into the Warren Commission. Once again, proper documentation of this item is scarce, although it was listed as being accepted by the National Archives, dated “9/59,” which indicates that the date was not a typo.

A striking coincidence within the case of Lee Oswald exists within the correspondence he shared with Governor John Connally, the future assassination victim, regarding Oswald’s Marine discharge status. A letter from Connally to Oswald was found at Ruth Paine’s, which was listed on early inventories as being “in a foreign language.” However, a letter from Connally to Oswald was entered into the Warren Commission, but it was entirely in English. This apparent discrepancy was not explored, although another item held at the National Archives among the assassination materials may be a piece in the puzzle: a one page letter, written in French, and sent to John Connally by a woman named “Angele.”

Another intriguing document, sent from the Louisiana Division of Employment Security, Form ID-14, was saved by Oswald and indicated that he had been using a different social security number to report the wages he had earned at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall in Texas. Indeed, within the inventory of Oswald’s possessions was an additional document, a W2 form related to his employment with JCS, which also used the incorrect social security number, 433-54-3739. This mystery gets murkier upon the examination of Warren Commission Exhibit 1886, a memo that summarized all of Oswald’s JCS employment information, taken from S. L. Malone, Secretary Treasurer of Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall, which also states Oswald’s incorrect 3739 social security number. Evidently, while using improper identification, the accused assassin worked for a company that performed classified military work. (James Jackson, the supposed owner of the missing American Bakeries pay stub discussed previously, worked at American Bakeries with an incorrect social security number, like Oswald, one digit off.)8

Oswald had made a habit of using pseudonyms, particularly Alek Hidell, the alter ego who ordered the assassination weapon. Several documents found among Oswald’s possessions reflected this false identity, such as a Selective Service card bearing the Hidell name which was proven to have had a completely phony registration number.9 Also present was a certificate of service from the Marines made out to Hidell. Both of the documents were proven to be rather crude forgeries created from existing legitimate documents owned by Oswald. Based on the description of his work at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall and his ownership of several negatives featuring photographic duplication of his identification papers (negatives that also feature small vanity name plates featuring the names of Lee and Marina Oswald and George deMohrenschildt in various fonts), it would seem likely that Oswald was using the JCS photo facility to dabble in the fine arts of trickery. Oswald owned a Warrior brand rubber stamp kit that would have enabled him to create the lettering on another curious item, a vaccination form for Lee, supposedly prepared by “Dr. A. J. Hideel.” The exact purposes and origins of this extra name have never been made clear.

The Warren Commission, in its deceptively incomplete way, looked into these issues by having their experts examine the physical documents and sending their agents to gather affidavits, but they neglected to spend much time on some bigger questions. How or why did Oswald manage to use two social security numbers? Why was he spending so much effort building a second identity? His use of the name “Alek Hidell” preceded any of Oswald’s notions of assassination. He seemed to have invented the name “Hidell” in New Orleans as part of his involvement with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. At some points, Oswald seemed to be working on his own to create his illusions, as his homemade attempts at identification counterfeiting demonstrated. However, at other points, it seems he may have gotten inside help. Indeed, in the years before the assassination, time and time again, Lee and Marguerite Oswald received a significant amount of attention and assistance from the US State Department. Lee was also being shielded from the Dallas Police Intelligence Division by the FBI in the months before the tragedy.10 Who was this man with two social security numbers, two birth certificates, and two identities? What was he doing with an “electronic device of an unknown origin” that had to be hidden away and a “spy camera” that needed to be covered up?

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1  Dallas (Tex.). Police Dept. [Inventory of evidence #1], Legal Document, n.d.; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth338192/ : accessed July 12, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Municipal Archives , Dallas, Texas.

2  Armstrong, John “Catalogue entry for Charles Hamilton Auctions.” 1965. MS 15poage-arm-01-04c-10_Signatures, John Armstrong Collection. Baylor Poage Libraries, n.p.

3  CIA memorandum, “Material on Lee Harvey Oswald.” 22 Sept. 1965.

4  United States. Department of Justice. Attorney General’s Office. Providing For the Acquisition And Preservation By The United States of Items of Evidence Pertaining To the Assassination Of President John F. Kennedy. By Ramsey Clark. N.p.: n.p., 1966. Print.

5  Epstein, Edward Jay. Legend: The Secret World of Lee Harvey Oswald. New York: Reader’s Digest Press/McGraw-Hill, 1978.

6  HSCA- JFK Exhibit 482

7  Wilson, Frank D. Interview by PBS Frontline (” Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?”) PBS. Television broadcast.

8  Fleming, Trish and Zach Jendro. “The Curious Case of the American Bakeries Pay Voucher.” Dec. 31 2015. Web.

9  “Chapter Four: The Assassin.” Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy.1964. 121.

10  Hosty, James. “Chapter 2.” Assignment: Oswald. New York City: Skyhorse, 2011. Print.

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