The Worlds of the Men Who Killed Kennedy

Lee Harvey Oswald looked in the bathroom mirror of his Moscow hotel room, sometime around 3 PM, October 21, 1951, and split himself in 

— By | November 23, 2010

Darién Gap


November 23, 2010


The soul of the spy is somehow the model of us all.
- Jacques Barzun

Dear Lee,

Thirty-seven years ago this week, you were arrested at the Texas Theater in Dallas as a suspect in the fatal shooting of police officer J.D. Tippit. Patrolman 78, whose initials “J.D.” stood for nothing in particular, had pulled his squad car alongside a white male about thirty, of slender build, who matched the description of a man linked to “a shooting in the downtown area involving the President.” Confirming that he was in the Oak Cliff area, Tippit’s last words to the dispatcher had been a heedless “10-4.”

At 1:08 PM, patrolman 261, C.M. Barnhart, approached a man “drunk down at the end of the north end of Laws Street” who fit the shooter’s description. Joined by patrolman 243, B.L. Apple, the two 3-W motorcycle cops approached what turned out to be local rake and “3 time loser” Lonnie Ray Wright. They were arresting this suspect – who had “a loud color jacket on” – at the end of Laws near the railroad tracks, when at 1:16 they overheard a citizen using squad car 10′s police radio to report the shooting of an officer. Three minutes later, the citizen reported that the officer was dead.

The suspect fleeing the area where the officer had been shot was described as “a white male, about thirty, five eight, black hair, slender, wearing white jacket, a white shirt and dark slacks.” Known at this time as the “Oak Cliff suspect,” it was becoming clear that this suspect might be connected to the “downtown shooting.” But as it was still unknown what the connection might be, the police pursued the suspect in the slaying of a fellow officer while remaining alert for another man connected to the “downtown shooting,” who was potentially armed with a 30 caliber rifle. (As you were arrested, several officers continued to pursue a Pontiac station wagon that was spotted in a gas station with a rifle or shotgun in its back seat.)

So when you were taken in the police had two suspects in one person. One suspect was the man wanted in the shooting of officer J.D. Tippit. The other was the man into whom the world’s response to the events of that day in Dallas had begun to recede. Led astray from the possibility of a larger conspiracy in the assassination of the president, the television cameras zeroed-in on the presentation of a suspect as if it were the identification of the lone gunman. He was, in fact, informed that he was a suspect in the assassination of the president not by investigators but by reporters. And here begins the Gemini effect for those who enter the worlds of the men who killed Jack Kennedy.

When the “Oak Cliff suspect” was arrested he had two names for investigators: a Selective Service card identified him as ALEK JAMES HIDELL and a Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card as OSWALD, Lee H. When questioned about the names, and what his real name was, you replied, “you have the card yourself and know as much about it as I do.” When police investigated the matter further, going to your rooming house in Dallas to better determine who the man in their custody was, he acquired another name; they found that he had been living there as O. H. Lee.

This Lee or Oswald or Hidell, initially charged with the murder of a police officer and not charged with the assassination of the president until the following day, would further disappear into this world of mirrors when theorists later speculated that the man who shot Kennedy was a Soviet agent who had swapped bodies with the original “Oswald” during “Oswald’s” defection to Soviet Russia, 1959-61, when he was known to the C.I.A. as Lee Henry.

Lee Henry had tried to kill himself with a piece of broken glass after he was denied Soviet citizenship. Having been asked to leave the U.S.S.R. by 8 PM, October 21, 1959, he wrote in his “Historic Diary” at “7.00 P.M.” that day:

I decide to end it. Soak wrist in cold water to numb the pain. Then slash my left wrist. Then plunge wrist into bathtub of hot water. I think “when Rima comes at 8 to find me dead it will be a great shock. Somewhere a violin plays as I watch my life whirl away. I think to myself, “how easy to die” and “a sweet death,” (to violins)

But not only do the medical records at the Ministry of Health, Moscow show that Oswald was admitted at 4 PM (three hours before he claims to have cut himself), the tone of the passage is itself colorful staging, dramatizing a resolution to a visa problem that he successfully translated to a real resolution: “Somewhere a violin plays… I think to myself… ‘a sweet death,’ (to violins).” Oswald’s purple suicide kept him in Russia past 8 PM when, as he wrote in his “Historic Diary,” he was found unconscious, “bathtub water a rich red color.” His blood, in a staged sacrifice to Russia, made the clear water a rich red — while, analogously, his performance guaranteed him an extended stay in that place. Oswald performed transformed the horizon of possibility for Oswald the real. And the blood in the water made it harder for us to see which was which, where one ended and the other began. Oswald looked in the bathroom mirror of his Moscow hotel room, sometime around 3 PM, October 21, 1951, and split himself in two.

Your self-splitting became a quality of reality that would calcify around you in the following years. Rather than solidify you as a person, the increasing amount of research on JFK’s killer has produced many Oswalds — that is, a matrix of multiplication for any person associated with this mirroring human, a seductive world to become lost in. Zygmunt Bauman has written that social control in the mid-20th century shifted from a model of repression to seduction. Rather than present, produce, or put forth arguments to logically dominate a discourse, the discourse of seduction, naturalized in an ideology of consumption, works by deflecting our desires to increasing invisibility. We reach out, in other words, by drawing in. And, as was the case with Oswald, we frequently draw in by harnessing the doubling power of the mirror.

The greater the multiplicity in which you are seen, the more invisible that you become.

And, in this the age of Gemini, we have a world full of corners. The southeast window of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas, was such a corner. But Oswald’s duplications did not end there. As he shot down to a target receding to the southwest, the entire space relative to the events, time, and circumstance suddenly exploded in a self-proliferating population of strangers, plotters, theorists, hidden types and others reaching for the manufacturing power of the camera shot.

An example of this populating effect is Gary Mack‘s identification of a badged man hiding in the bushes photographed in Mary Moorman‘s Polaroid. The Badge Man theory was made public in Nigel Turner’s 1988 documentary, The Men Who Killed Kennedy. This is Mary Moorman’s Polaroid:

If you don’t see a badged man in the bushes behind the grassy knoll, perhaps you aren’t looking hard enough. Here is an enlargement by Jack White, followed by a diagram by Greg Jaynes:

Yes, of course he is there. And, just as certainly, of course he is not. In allowing myself to be seduced without any commitment to the logic of responsibility or even culpability, I can assume that you are guilty while presuming that there must be other men who participated in the assassination of Jack Kennedy. Oswald can and can not act alone–and we enjoy having it both ways. As my eyes follow the traced outline of the Badge Man, I have allowed the liquid world in which he lives to pour forth. I am seduced, declarified, invisible–and there are many others for me to see: the Babushka Lady, the Umbrella Man, Black Dog Man, the Oswald Double in the Doorway of the Depository During the Shooting, the Three Tramps, etc. The water, as it were, appears to us a rich, red color.

And the more that we look, the more that we’d like to see. An investigator goes rogue upon discovering that the factor of culpability is eliminated in the wake of their leads. Without consideration for where they might end up, they end up going everywhere. Researching the Kennedy assassination, one comes across strange outliers like Christian David, who in the mid 80s claimed to have been offered the job of eliminating the president by Corsican mob boss Antoine Guèrini. Serving a prison sentence for smuggling drugs into France from Brazil, he insisted on total silence until he was released from prison, hoping that he could use his information regarding the assassination to reduce prison time. Michel Nicoli, a former drug trafficker now under the American witness protection program, corroborated David’s story. But, although David was released in the 90s, upon release he said no more about the Corsican conspiracy. Stories like David’s (specifically by felons seeking to lessen prison sentences by offering groundbreaking information on the Kennedy assassination) abound; there have been at least two dozen similar claims. Actor Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Harrelson, who was serving two life terms before he died at the Florence Supermax in 2007, claimed to have shot Kennedy–suggesting that he was one of the Three Tramps found in a boxcar behind Dealey Plaza minutes after the assassination. In 1982, he said to a Dallas radio station:

Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed president Kennedy, alone, without any aide from a rogue agency of the US govt. or at least a portion of that agency? I believe you are very naive if you do.

Do you believe? I believe that production of Other Oswalds is not only a permanent effect of the seductive conditions of the world of the Kennedy assassination, but such an inevitability that, just as Harrelson implicated himself by approaching the Plaza, every approach to the Plaza (the locus of the events) is necessarily productive of more Oswalds and implicated in production of more mirrors, evermore elaborate. And I, too, am now guilty. Because I have been seduced, I must seduce. And, in researching the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, I can function by no principle except the observation of total proliferation and deflection. There will always be more gunmen. And, of course, you acted alone.




3 Responses to The Worlds of the Men Who Killed Kennedy

  1. Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on November 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Excellent post. Oswald has always intrigued me. Especially the way they discarded a loyal intelligence operative like a used Kleenex. I don’t understand why every generation has to “prove” who killed Kennedy. The French figured it out in 1965. Then New Orleans DA Jim Garrison interviewed all the witnesses who were still alive – including one of the sharpshooters – for his grand jury investigation. This is all still in Parish of New Orleans Records – and fortunately perserved in Wm Torbitt’s “Nomenclature of an Assassination Cabal” published in 1970 (currently on Amazon, as well as being widely circulated in hard copy). Then the House Committee on Assassinations proved in 1978 that Oswald wasn’t a lone gunman. And Oliver Stone had to prove it all over again in his 1991 movie JFK. What really makes me sick is that this is all public information – available in most public libraries.

    The reality is that it wasn’t a secret CIA, Mormon, Jewish, Mason cabal that killed JFK. It was a pro-corporate conspiracy (Garrison has also carefully documented who financed it – a bunch of defense and NASA contractors and oil executives) that was executed at the highest level of government: the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Collaboration with Johnson and Hoover. I am really pleased to see someone of Ventura’s prominence take it up again.

    I write how my own life changed totally in 1984 – when I made the acquaintance of a JFK assassination witness – in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE ( I currently live in exile in New Zealand.

  2. Kerry Thornley on March 13, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Kerry W. Thornley, “Letter For La Chica,” The Idle Warriors:

    La Chica:

    The man who delivers this to you is a friend of mine. I asked him not to stop by with it until I and my outfit are bound for Japan again. As you read this, I am probably somewhere between Olangapo and Yokohama. The sky is probably grey and the ocean rough. I am probably standing on the deck thinking of a nice, warm Philippine weather and of you – the girl I will always call “La Chica.”

    I remember how you looked at me the first night Johnny Shellburn and I walked into the Island Lounge Restaurant arguing philosophy. And, also, I remember how Johnny Shellburn looked at you.

    You had on your yellow dress that night, I remember that, and that you came over to sit with me and talk, pretending to be interested in Johnny’s book on Hinduism. I knew then that you were interested in me; you made it clear. So clear that I relaxed, thinking things would work out in time. I’m sorry.

    I left early that night, left Johnny behind, happy and confident. When Johnny told me the next day that he had a date with you, I thought nothing of it. I don’t know whether I underestimated him or overestimated you, but I’m sorry my judgment was not more perfect. Maybe I just did not think about it.

    I know how it happened and I’m not blaming you. Johnny took you out, told you he wanted to go to bed with you and you were afraid to answer. He took you to a hotel, got a room, and dragged you there without further questions. That’s Johnny’s way. I’ve seen him do it time and again. He is direct and blunt, but his method works.

    We change our taste, our likes and dislikes, even our loves, to conform with reality. It’s part of adjusting to life. I’ve preached it all along, and I saw it happen to you. Since Johnny had made himself important in you life, and since I hadn’t, you turned your attention more and more toward him. I saw it happening; I knew it what was happening; and yet, I did nothing to stop it. I’m sorry.

    I wasn’t sorry then, but I’m sorry now. For tonight I saw you hanging on Johnny’s arms crying “Don’t go!” And I saw Johnny pushing his way out the door and saying, “Leave me alone. I’m no good, girl.” I saw this tonight. If we were not heading back for Japan in the morning, there would still be some time for me to do something, to give you the love you cried for and the love I could have given. But now the orders are stamped.

    Experiences, even bad ones, are worth something. I don’t know what you got out of this one, but I learned one thing that will serve me forever: the worst thing a man can do is just stand and do nothing. I’ll not repeat that mistake.

    Please write, La Chica.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *