Saturday, October 30, 2010

Was the FBI Searching for Oswald the Day Before the Assassination?

                                                   Dealey Plaza Echo, (2005), 8, 2, 46-52.

                        Was the FBI Searching for Oswald the Day Before the Assassination?

                                                          John Delane Williams

Perhaps one of the worst kept U.S. government secrects was the FBI's pre-assassination interest in Lee Harvey Oswald. Their efforts to keep this secret might be termed "Plausible Denial", to borrow the term from Mark Lane. [1] To admit to their pre-assassination interest would have brought a host of questions that might have proved embarrassing to the FBI, and might have brought viable conspiracy charges much earlier. If Oswald was a dangerous threat to President Kennedy, then why wouldn't the FBI have known this and prevented the assassination? Notice that a defense of the sort, "Well we knew he wasn't dangerous, and he was being used as a patsy", no matter how true, would have given the FBI even more problems and more things to explain. If the coverup was to succeed, the FBI wanted to be able to claim ignorance of the possible threat. An example of this is FBI agent James Hosty's destroying a threat from Oswald that was ignored. The threat, written out on a small piece of paper, was flushed down the toilet after the assassination, by Hosty after Hosty's being ordered to do so by his supervisor, Howard Shanklin, apparently on direct orders from J. Edgar Hoover. [2]

The FBI's duplicity regarding Oswald is further shown in their understating their repeated contacts with Oswald and his wife, Marina. According to the Washington Evening Star (11/24/1963, p. 5), "The FBI said its agents had interviewed Oswald only once... when he got into some trouble in New Orleans... FBI sources indicated Oswald came to Dallas from Fort Worth about two months ago, but said the suspect's presence here was not known to them." [emphasis added by North, 3] 

       The Teletype Received by New Orleans FBI

On Sunday, November 17, 1963, a teletype was received at the New Orleans FBI office. William Walter, a security code clerk at the
FBI office read the teletype:

URGENT    1:45 AM EST 11-17-63    HLF        1 PAGE





This teletype, in the form of a telegram, would normally be sent  by the FBI by air mail to save money. [4]

A copy of the teletype was made by Walter's wife, Josey, who was a clerical employee whose duties included making such copies (they were divorced in 1968). The FBI neither acknowledged nor denied that this teletype was sent/and or received, [5] but apparently originals of the teletype have not been made available. It can be noted that the teletype ostensibly was sent under the direction of the Director (J. Edgar Hoover). The author of the teletype apparently has never been positively identified. One rumor was that the author of the teletype later quit the FBI because the order to find Oswald was rescinded forty minutes after it was sent. This rumor has not been substantiated. [6]

       FBI Interest in Oswald: Mobile, Alabama

Naif Michael Moore, Jr. aka Junior Moore, was born January 1, 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama. His adult years had been spent as a "crossroader", or professional gambler. Junior has written a book about his life [7], carefully omitting the present story. In 1962, he bought Jimmy's Billiards in Mobile, Alabama. As was common at that time, the poolroom was as much a front for the bookmaking operations as anything else. Because bookmaking was illegal in most states at that time, bookmakers were seen as easy persons for the FBI to use as informants, however unwilling the bookmaker might be.  This was particularly true after 1960, when a federal stamp was required to continue bookmaking. Buying a stamp meant both paying a large portion of their profit to the federal government, and simultaneously admitting to a state crime. The de facto solution for bookmakers was not to buy a stamp. The de facto solution for the FBI was to develop bookmakers as Possible Criminal Informants (PCI's). Junior would be called to come down to the FBI office repeatedly. In the language of the FBI he was a PCI. If he didn't want the IRS breathing down his back, he could cooperate with the FBI.

On November 21, 1963, while playing pool for $200 a game with Ernie Sellers, a pool player from New Orleans, Junior was called by James Ambrose, a local FBI agent, to come to the office; Junior was told that if he didn't come to the FBI office immediately, they would come to pick him up. Moore put down his cue stick and told Sellers he had to go somewhere, but that they would continue the game when he came back. An observer of the pool game, B.K. "Red" Salter, asked what was going on; Salter was betting on Junior to win, and wondered what could have him leave the game so abruptly. Junior asked Salter to walk with him. The distance was four blocks. When Junior Moore said that he was going to the FBI office, Salter decided to go to a restaurant instead of to the FBI building.

Jim Ambrose escorted Junior to a room, and told him he had some pictures that he would like Junior to view. Moore was shown several pictures and asked if he had seen any of the persons in them in the poolroom. The only person he could identify was a local (Sonny Brazell).

Then Junior was shown a blown up photograph. It was of a young man handing out leaflets in New Orleans, as Junior recalls the picture. Junior told Ambrose that he had never seen this person. Ambrose then told Junior that the man's name was Lee Harvey Oswald (8); if he ever did show up at the poolroom, Junior was to call immediately. Junior asked, "What was this all about?" Ambrose related that President Kennedy was going to Dallas and the FBI had received orders to put anyone under surveillance who was considered a threat to President Kennedy's life. Junior knew a Leonard Oswalt, and Junior asked Ambrose if he might be kin to Lee Harvey Oswald. Ambrose related that Lee Oswald's name ended in a "d" rather than a "t". Oswalt was a gambler who frequented Junior's poolroom, so remembering the name Lee Harvey Oswald for a day was quite easy. 

After the interview, Moore stopped at the restaurant. Moore's friend "Red" Salter was quite curious about the interview; the circumstances seemed most unusual. Moore related what transpired. They went back to the poolroom where the pool game was resumed.

The next day, President Kennedy was assassinated. Three hours after the assassination, the name Lee Harvey Oswald was flashed on the television screen. Shortly, "Red" called and said, "That's the son of a bitch the FBI was asking you about!" Moore replied, "Big deal."
                   Questioning about Jack Ruby

On Sunday morning, November 24, Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Station. Moore was contacted by James Ambrose of the FBI two days later (November 26, 1963) regarding whether Moore had any personal knowledge of Jack Ruby, which Moore initially denied. Later that day, Moore contacted Ambrose and said that Sugar Kane (aka Joyce Phillips), a stripper at a local nightclub, told him that two individuals in Mobile thought Ruby had ten years previously been a strong arm man and thief in New Orleans, and that Ruby had purportedly run a nightclub in Phoenix City, Alabama. Moore states that these two individuals were Lamont Myers, a waiter at the Esquire Club in Mobile (the night club where Sugar Kane was a stripper), and George Speich, a one-time bouncer at the Esquire Club. The persons named by Moore all denied knowing Ruby in subsequent interviews. [9] The FBI further denied ever having had photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald in Mobile.

Moore knew of Jack Ruby, who had come to Mobile on occasion. He would come to Mobile to get strippers to take to his clubs in Dallas. One of Ruby's tasks in Mobile would often include taking a stripper, Shasta Starr, to Carlos Marcello in New Orleans. Apparently, Marcello was "sweet" on Miss Starr, and she would be brought to Marcello in New Orleans. [10]
               Ambrose Becomes Unavailable

Moore could not fathom that the FBI would deny that they were looking for Oswald. Moore assumed that there was an all out manhunt, and that many people were called in, like Moore, to help. Moore tried calling Jim Ambrose at the FBI office to talk to him. He'd called ten times, leaving his name and asking for Ambrose to call. In January 1964, Moore called the FBI office and was told that Ambrose was no longer at the Mobile FBI office. They further said they had no idea (or were not forthcoming) to where Ambrose might have been transferred.

James Ambrose was reassigned to Russian language school in December 1963. He was later transferred to the New York Division of the FBI. Ambrose later resigned and moved to Omaha, where he worked as a stockbroker. This information only became available to Moore after the release of the ARRB documents.

Moore then began talking to his associates who might have been called in as Moore was. One such person was a fellow bookmaker, "Bubba" McCoy. McCoy denied being called in by the FBI to identify Oswald. Only years later would McCoy admit to his being interviewed.
                    Move to Arkansas

In 1971, Moore moved back to Blythville, Arkansas to be with his ailing mother. While living at his mother's home in 1975, Moore viewed a CBS special, featuring Dan Rather, The American Assassins. This segment included an interview with William Walter, the FBI agent who received the teletype on November 17th at the New Orleans FBI office regarding a threat to President Kennedy in Dallas, November 22-23. The teletype was also sent to Dallas and Mobile, Alabama; Moore then surmised that this teletype was the reason he had been called in by Jim Ambrose of the Mobile FBI. [11]

Moore told his story to George Ford, Sheriff of Mississippi County, Arkansas. Ford in turn informed Ed Cunningham with the FBI office in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Cunningham had passed the story on to his superiors, who in turn asked Cunningham to get a statement from Moore. Moore was asked to document his story for the FBI, which Moore did. The FBI promised to check out his story. An eight page FBI summary was written on December 11, 1975. [12] The report reiterated Moore's story, also including that Ambrose denied the interview regarding Oswald took place.

 The FBI refused to interview Red Salter, perhaps feeling that doing so might lend credibility to Moore. [13] A Department of Justice follow-up document, a letter from FBI Director Clarence Kelley to the Department of Justice, [14] essentially re-iterated the previous agency communication; by this time, they contacted former agent Ambrose, who denied any discussion with Moore about Lee Harvey Oswald.

                  Meeting with Red Salter

Red Salter called Junior Moore in February 1992. Salter said that he had terminal cancer and that he wanted to document his story regarding going to the FBI office with Moore on November 21, 1963 (15).  Actually, Salter only went part way to the FBI office; he stopped at a restaurant on the way. Also invited to the meeting was Cathy Donelson, a reporter for the Mobile Press Register. Donelson contacted former FBI agent James Ambrose in Omaha. Ambrose saw Moore as a person without veracity (So why did the FBI continue to question him?) Donelson then called Ed Cunningham, the NE Arkansas FBI agent with whom Moore spoke in 1975. Cunningham denied talking to Moore about the Kennedy assassination. This is curious, given the files released under the ARRB. However, in 1992, that was still a couple of years in the future. [16]

          Article in the Mobile Press Register

Cathy Donelson had an article [17] published on February 22, 1992 in the Mobile (AL) Press Register. The three page article reviewed
Junior Moore's story, with Donelson also interviewing FBI agents James Ambrose and Ed Cunningham, and Moore's friend Red Salter. Only Salter corraborated Moore's story. Within days after the story appeared, Donelson was fired by the newspaper, and Moore began over four years of hell for Moore and his family. First came the IRS audit, which ensued a few months after the article ran. When the audit was completed a year later, Moore was $44,000 lighter. Moore did not associate the audit with the article, and Moore called William Walter, the former FBI agent who received the November 17, 1963 teletype regarding the warning of the possible assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas November 22-23. They got together in New Orleans, where Moore's wife videotaped Moore and Walter discuss their respective stories regarding their personal brush with the assassination. This taping took place December 21, 1993. [18] Moore and Walter later found out that their telephone conversations were wiretapped by the FBI.  This led first to nine homes being raided by the Mobile FBI. This raid occurred on January 23, 1994. Moore had it explained to him by the FBI that these events were part of the past best left uncovered. Moore and his son Tony were then indicted on bookmaking charges. Both Moore and his son Tony plea bargained the charges. Both were fined $5000 and had a six month sentence to a half-way house and five years of supervised probation.

 Shortly after the raid, Moore was called by Bubba McCoy who was on his deathbed. Bubba admitted to being interviewed by the FBI, being shown a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald just prior to the assassination. Moore asked why Bubba denied it for so long. Bubba replied, "It was one of those situations where I had a lot to lose and nothing to gain." Bubba further advised Moore to "lose his curiosity."

[1] Lane, M. (1993). Plausible Denial. New York: Thunder's Mouth       Press.
[2] North, M. (1991). Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover      in the Assassination of President Kennedy. New York: Carroll     & Graf.
[3] ibid, p. 422.

[4] Groden, R.J. & Livingstone, E. (1989). High Treason: The           Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: What Really            Happened. New York: The Conservatory Press (between pp.        180 & 181).
[5] Armstrong, J. (2003). Harvey & Lee: How the CIA Framed        Oswald. Arlington, TX: Quasar Ltd.
[6] Donelson, C. (1992). Did FBI ask him about Oswald day before      JFK killed? Mobile (AL) Press Register, February 23, 1A +.       Walter downplayed the role of the "author" of the                teletype in the video interview with Junior Moore, December      21, 1993. Moore has made a copy of that video available to       me.
[7] Moore, N.M. & Darring, W. (1992). The Crossroader: Memoirs of      a Professional Gambler. Mobile, AL: Regency Press. One           interesting note about Moore's book is that the best known       crossroader who he was personally acquainted with was            Rudodolph Wonderone, or "New York Fats". In the movie, The       Hustler, the role of "Minnesota Fats", played by Jackie          Gleason was based on the life of Wonderone. After viewing        the movie, Wonderone was so impressed with the accuracy of       the movie that he changed his moniker to "Minnesota Fats".  [8] On trying to refresh Moore's memory, I thought I would get a      copy of the photograph of Oswald passing out leaflets in        New Orleans. To my surprise there were at least nine             different photographs of Oswald passing out leaflets in New      Orleans. James Richards posted a montage of 8 LHO pictures       passing out leaflets in New Orleans on the JFK                   Assassination Forum site, January 28, 2004. I also became        aware that one or more video clips were made of LHO passing      out the leaflets. Thus any number of photographs could have      been made from video clips. One such clip was shown on the       Oprah Show on November 22, 1996. Junior Moore made a copy        of that program and sent it to me.
[9] In fact Moore was acquainted with Ruby, and knew that Ruby        would take a particular stripper (whose stage name was           Shasta) on occasion, to Carlos Marcello in New Orleans.          Marcello had a particular fondness for Shasta.
[10] Moore couldn’t originally remember Shasta's last name. Paul      Bell, who had been a vice squad detective in Mobile during       the 1960's, told Moore her last name was Starr; both Moore       and Bell confirmed this story with the present writer by         telephone, May 18, 2004. Bell recalled that Starr seemed to      be attracted to him; Bell claims that he rebuffed those          attractions. Bell related that the then Mobile police chief      apparently did not rebuff Miss Starr. Marcello apparently        thought that Starr was involved with Bell, leading to a          threat from Marcello through one of Marcello's henchmen. At      the time of the assassination, Shasta would perform at           Marie's Lounge when she was in Mobile; a few years later,        her Mobile stop was at The Esquire Club. On at least two         occasions, Moore has referred to this person as Sereen;          however, Moore insists that her name is actually Shasta.         She may have appeared under both names at different times,       which would add to the confusion.
[11] One possible reason for Mobile to be of interest is that Lee       Harvey Oswald had presented lectures on Marxism at Spring        Hill College in Mobile. Apparently Oswald had a cousin on        his mother's side (a Murret) who was attending Spring Hill       College at the time. Interview videotaped between Junior         Moore and William Walter, December 21, 1993.
[12] FBI file number 62-109060-741; ARRB record number 124-10056-       10063.
[13] FBI file number 62-109060-741; ARRB record number 124-10056-       10063.
[14] DOJ record number 179-20003-10380.
[15] Moore and Salter had a videotape made from this session. To      this point, I have only heard the audio portion.
[16] Moore, N.M. (1999). My Song. Unpublished Notes.
[17] Donelson, C. (1992). Did FBI ask him about Oswald day before       JFK killed? Mobile Press Register, p. 1A+.
[18] William Walter also appeared on the Oprah Show, November 22,      1996. He related that the original of the teleype regarding      a possible assassination attempt in Dallas was on the desk       of the Special Agent in Charge's office in New Orleans.          Walter also said that he had seen a file on Lee Harvey           Oswald, who was an FBI informant. It was Walter's opinion        that Oswald was the probable source of the warning               regarding the threat to President Kennedy.

                     John Delane Williams
                     34704 J Place
                     Box 357
                     Ocean Park, Washington 98640


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