Long Division: One Researcher, Ten Months and Two Oswalds

by Dave Reitzes


I discovered the work of John Armstrong in May 1998. Despite some reservations, I quickly came to believe that Armstrong's investigation into the biography of Lee Harvey Oswald had unearthed one of the most stunning discoveries in the history of the ongoing JFK assassination inquiry. With John's encouragement, I researched and wrote a detailed adaptation of his work and was fortunate to be able to archive it on Deanie Richards' JFK Place.

At one point, however, I got distracted.

It had taken little more than a 1992 reading of Edward Jay Epstein's Counterplot (now anthologized in The Assassination Chronicles) to convey to me the deficiencies of infamous New Orleans DA Jim Garrison's investigative methodology. Now that I was on-line, several of Garrison's defenders were apparently outraged to learn of my little regard for Big Jim and demanded an explanation. I did my best to present one; it's called "Who Speaks for Clay Shaw?" and is now archived at the Kennedy Assassination Home Page .

When my position earned me a multitude of personal attacks (accusations of being everything from a liar and a CIA "disinformation specialist" to a Nazi and/or a living mutation of Jim Garrison's own excrement -- these being just some of the printable ones), I found myself researching Garrison's career more and more intensively. (Whether this was due to simple indignation or genuine curiosity about my accusers' pathology is a matter open to speculation.)

When the dust started to clear several months later, my thinking about the JFK assassination had undergone a change that can hardly be overstated. Studying Garrison's methodology had opened my eyes to wide-ranging, systematic errors of judgment in my own work: For practically every witness or source I cited in support of one of my own convictions, it seemed there was a questionable, misguided or outright fraudulent Garrison witness that seemed uncomfortably familiar. It is no exaggeration to state that my faith in even the most credible of my sources was severely shaken.

I remained convinced of the validity of John's Armstrong's theory, however, until slightly later.

In March, W. Tracy Parnell posted an article critical of John's work , focusing primarily on the unreliability of eyewitness statements. I didn't have any problem with this argument, which I found reasonable but uncompelling. I started to formulate a response, emphasizing two key points: 1) the pattern of two distinct individuals, two distinct "Oswalds," that emerges in John's work, and 2) the scarce but crucial physical evidence and independent corroboration for a number of the eyewitnesses.

I chose Henry Lee Timmer as a case study. Timmer is the eyewitness who helps John Armstrong place an Oswald impostor in North Dakota almost ten years before the assassination, when Oswald is supposed to have been in New York City (John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee: The Case for Two Oswalds, Part 1," PROBE Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 6, September-October 1997, 21-2).

Armstrong cites five sources in support of Timmer's story -- a 1963 statement by Oswald indicating onetime residence in North Dakota, a similar 1959 statement reported by Aline Mosby, an FBI report referencing Mosby's quotation, a 1963 allegation from the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, and an eyewitness account from Timmer's mother, Alma Cole, whose observations were supported by other members of her family (Ibid., 22). The FBI report can admittedly be dismissed, since it only reports -- not verifies -- what Mosby said. One could also, for the sake of argument, ignore the corroboration from Timmer's family, and also dismiss the Internal Security Subcommittee's information as hearsay.

But Armstrong cites Lt. Francis Martello of the New Orleans Police Department as someone Oswald informed personally of his onetime residence in North Dakota (Ibid., 22), a residence the official record rules out. In preparing my response to Parnell, I now went to double-check this in the report of Martello's interview with Oswald (10 H 53-6; 23 H 736-40), but found no mention of North Dakota there, nor in Martello's Warren Commission testimony (10 H 51-62; 11 H 471). Had John simply made a mistake?

Regardless of Martello, I had no doubt whatsoever that John's other citation was unimpeachable. Aline Mosby's 1959 article on Oswald quotes him in plain black and white as saying he lived in North Dakota. This article ran in newspapers around the world in 1959 and was quoted frequently following the assassination. A clear scan of one of these articles is included in Jerry Robertson's document collection, Denial #2.

For my response to Parnell, I decided to go straight to the source and quote from Mosby's notes of her 1959 interview with Oswald, which are reproduced in the Warren Commission Hearings volumes (CE 1385; 22 H 701-10). When I called these notes up on my Hearings CD-ROM for the first time, however, I was again in for a surprise: Where the oft-cited, oft-quoted Mosby newspaper article says, "Then we moved to North Dakota," Mosby's typewritten notes clearly say, "Then we moved to New Orleans" (CE 1385; 22 H 703). There is no mention of North Dakota whatsoever. [Note: Contrary to what the Warren Commission volumes say, these are not Mosby's original 1959 notes; they are very clearly retyped for a 1963 or 1964 article.]

"North Dakota" was never anything but a transcription error. The dozens and dozens of newspapers that picked up the reference simply repeated the mistake, as did John Armstrong, as -- up until this time -- did I.

In light of the discovery that Henry Lee Timmer and his mother have nothing to corroborate their story, I was forced to acknowledge problems I'd always had with Timmer's story, and the true chronology of events became evident:

In 1959, Mosby or an associate mistranscribes "New Orleans" as "North Dakota"; newspapers around the world repeat the mistake; the FBI later repeats the mistake; the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee later repeats the mistake. After the assassination, perhaps Alma Cole reads that the President's accused killer lived in North Dakota at one time and wonders if this Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't an undesirable young man her son Henry palled around with as a teenager. Perhaps Henry indeed remembers this person; he recalls his name as "Harvey."

'Come to think of it,' Timmer might have thought upon hearing more about JFK's "Marxist assassin," 'He once showed me a funny pamphlet of some kind. I'll bet it was about Marxism. It was,' he decides, 'it was about Marxism!"

But is it likely that a boy of twelve or so in North Dakota would recognize a pamphlet on Marxism and would remember it a full decade later?

'And didn't Harvey once say something about killing the President?' Henry might have asked himself. 'I think he did! I'm sure he did! Of course he did!'

In 1953? Could any patsy have been set up that far in advance? Had Oswald's eventual assignment been chosen for him even as Eisenhower was being sworn in?

Only months ago, I accepted Henry Timmer's story: If Timmer remembered it, Oswald must have said it, right? But how many Garrisonites have been arguing the same thing about Perry Russo, for example, or Vernon Bundy, both discredited by their own earlier words? Or Aloysius Habighorst and Andrew Sciambra, two key Garrison witnesses discredited on the stand? I myself had been adamantly defending such Garrison witnesses as Henry Earl Palmer and Corrie Collins in their identifications of Oswald in Clinton, Louisiana, until shown solid evidence they were not credible -- their own 1967 statements, discovered by Patricia Lambert (see False Witness). Even award-winning Louisiana historian Dr. Michael L. Kurtz, who I've expended a great deal of energy championing, cannot in and of himself be taken as proof of sinister Oswald connections and activities in New Orleans.

Much of John Armstrong's case is far less important than Henry Lee Timmer's story and the anomalous Mosby "North Dakota" reference. Some of it, I had to admit to myself, had always troubled me. A prime example is Armstrong's citation of Marita Lorenz as a crucial eyewitness to an Oswald in the US at the time Oswald was in Russia (Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee: The Case for Two Oswalds, Part 2," PROBE, Vol. 5, No. 1, November-December 1997, 21). (Gaeton Fonzi's first-hand portrayal of Lorenz in The Last Investigation should be enough to demonstrate to even most conspiracy theorists why I have problems with her credibility.) I'd rationalize this by assuring myself that Lorenz' claim of knowing Oswald in 1960 or so is entirely unrelated to her later dubious claims regarding 1963. I'm afraid that excuse is not going to suffice any longer.

Without Lorenz, though, who's left to corroborate a key point of John Armstrong's case: the existence of an Oswald in Florida during 1959-61? An alleged CIA operative or two, a few transients never heard from again, a few others whose credibility was never tested . . . in other words, "Garrison witnesses." I recalled -- for what seemed like the thousandth time -- that former HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi never was able to verify a single one of the eyewitness accounts he'd come across of Lee Harvey Oswald in Florida.

No one's ever accused Fonzi of being an incompetent investigator; certainly I wouldn't.

Admittedly, these are just bits and pieces of John Armstrong's argument. What about John's serious allegations of missing school and employment records from Oswald's teen years? What about Palmer McBride, William Wulf, the missing employment records from the Fifties and the controversial tax records? McBride has compelling independent corroboration for his account of Oswald in New Orleans in 1957-58; if this wasn't Oswald, who was it? What about Oscar Deslatte and Fred Sewall's statements and evidence that a "Lee Oswald" approached them as a representative of the Friends of Democratic Cuba (a fund-raising arm of the CIA's anti-Castro operations formed by alleged Oswald associate Guy Banister and former Oswald employer Gerard Tujague) at a time when Oswald is known to have been in the USSR? Were Deslatte and Sewall mistaken or lying? Could Oswald's name have been chosen by the FDC for reasons unrelated to later doings in New Orleans and/or Dallas? What about the dozen-plus eyewitnesses in and around Alice, Texas? Could they all possibly be mistaken, possibly thinking of another unusual family that passed through the area in October 1963? What about the half-dozen or so witnesses at the Sports Drome Rifle Range? Were they all thinking of someone else? What about the dozens of people who place Oswald with Ruby or at Ruby's Carousel Club? Or the many, many others who place Oswald at places he is never supposed to have been or with people he is never supposed to have known? Are these all examples of mistaken identify stirred up by the fervor surrounding the assassination?

What about Oswald's wallet, allegedly found at the Tippit crime scene? What about the oddities in his medical records -- two tonsillectomies, for example, and a reappearing front tooth? What about some of the genuinely troublesome photographs brought to our attention by researchers like John Armstrong, Jack White and Jerry Robertson? What about all the reports of Oswald in Philadelphia, Ohio, West Virginia, Montreal, and all sorts of other places he is supposed to never have been? What about John Armstrong's intriguing research into Marguerite Oswald?

I can't debunk any of these things and, frankly, I have no desire to do so. John Armstrong himself has always said that if his theory of two Oswalds is incorrect, a new theory will have to be offered in its place to explain the facts he's turned up. Some aspects of John's case are more easily explained than others, but I believe that John's research, along with related work by Jack White and Jerry Robertson, has indeed raised a number of issues that merit further investigation.

It is no joy to express my newfound doubts about the work these men have done. They are dedicated researchers and generous scholars, and if the full truth about the Kennedy assassination is ever known, it will be due to folks just like them. Those who support their work -- people like Jim Hargrove and Deanie Richards -- deserve praise for their efforts in demanding a fair hearing for some ideas all too easily dismissed.

We must, each one of us, follow our own path to the truth. Whose path is ultimately the right one is not important; the truth itself is the only thing that matters. With the aid of researchers like John Armstrong, Jerry Robertson and Jack White, I do believe we're getting there.



John Armstrong, "Lee Harvey Oswalds: Dual Identity Cover-Up," Fair Play #7

John Armstrong, "Marguerite's Addresses," PROBE, Vol. 3, No. 5, July-August 1996

John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee: The Case for Two Oswalds, Part 1," PROBE, Vol. 4, No. 6, September-October 1997

John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee: The Case for Two Oswalds, Part 2," PROBE, Vol. 5, No. 1, November-December 1997

As of January 1, 1999, these last two issues are available from Citizens for Truth about the Kennedy Assassination (CTKA) for $6.00 each including postage. PROBE's mailing address is CTKA, PO Box 3317, Culver City, CA 90231. (Vol. 3, No. 5 is out of print and I would urge CTKA to post John's article at their Web site.)

John Armstrong, "Harvey, Lee, and Tippit," PROBE, Vol. 5, No. 2, January-February 1998.

John Armstrong, "The FBI and the Framing of Oswald," PROBE, Vol. 4, No. 3, March-April 1997; ordering information as above

John Armstrong, "Harvey and Lee: Just the Facts, Please" Fair Play, No. 25, November-December 1998.

John Kelin, "Harvey and Lee: A Capsule Version" Fair Play, No. 25, November-December 1998.



John Armstrong, "Lee Harvey Oswalds: Dual Identity Cover-Up," abstract from the 1995 COPA conference; Fair Play No. 7.

John Armstrong, 1996 Fourth Decade presentation; reported by Joe Backes, "The Fourth Decade Conference, Part 2," Fair Play, No. 12.

(This researcher possesses a copy of this manuscript with numerous corrections made personally by John Armstrong. I regret that this corrected version cannot be posted on-line without the author's permission.)

Jerry Robertson's transcription of the 1997 presentation is available on-line.

See also: Tom DeVries, Review of John Armstrong's presentation, "Harvey and Lee," Assassination Chronicles, Vol. 3, No. 4, Winter 1997.

Jack White's "Evolution of Lee Harvey Oswald" poster was created at the suggestion of John Armstrong. It contains 77 images of Lee Harvey Oswald from the cradle to the grave, and is the single most valuable visual resource to seeing for oneself evidence that more than one person was using the name "Lee Harvey Oswald," as well as evidence that someone went to a lot of trouble in a few cases to blur the distinction. It can be ordered at Mr. White's Web site.

A miniature version of the poster is reproduced in Robert Groden, The Search for Lee Harvey Oswald.

Also available from Jack White: his videotape presentation, "The Many Faces of Lee Harvey Oswald," which inspired John Armstrong's Oswald research.

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