Friday, November 19, 2010

                 Oswald in North Dakota? Part Two

              John Delane Williams and Gary Severson

     In Part I of Oswald in North Dakota, we related our studying a reported Oswald sighting in Stanley, ND. In talking to current residents of Stanley, we came across a most improbable story- a second independent sighting of a person who could be Lee Harvey Oswald, or an Oswald impersonator. A mild mannered tailor, Lyle Aho, told us a story that bears being taken seriously. Lyle has been a lifelong resident of North Dakota, leaving the state on occassion to work in the oil patches of the upper Northwest part of the US. He was disabled by a car accident in 1976 and then returned to Stanley, eventually taking up tailoring to make a living. Since his arrival in Stanley as a small child, he has spent most of his time there. When he worked in the oil fields, he always wintered in Stanley. Winters in North Dakota begin earlier and last longer than in most other parts of the US. His wintering in Stanley could begin as early as September, or as late as December, going back to the oil patch by March or April.

     Aho, who now is 5'10", was relatively smaller than his age mates as a child. He moved to Stanley from Belden, ND, in the fall of 1951. Aho was born in Belden on May 9, 1939 (and thus is slightly older than Oswald). Belden was a small community 10 miles south of Stanley, and had perhaps 200-300 residents in the surrounding area, with 40-50 people in Belden. One interesting detail is that Belden, a predominantly Finnish community, also was a stronghold for the Communist Party USA. The party received several hundred votes in Belden and a nearby community of Plaza in elections in the 1930's [1]. Belden is now a ghost town.

     The crux of Aho's story takes place in either 1955 or 1956, he isn't sure which year. (He thinks 1956.) That summer, Aho spent a lot of time with a relative, Vern Buehler. Buehler was said to be less than a year younger than Aho (Buehler was born on September 27, 1943, making him more than three years younger than Aho). Aho was introduced to an "older" boy, perhaps 3-4 years older, whose name was Lee. Lee seemed to spend a lot of time with Vern Buehler. Aho thought that Lee might have been staying with the Buehler's. Lee told people that he was a furnace salesman, but Aho thought this was just a cover, since Lee didn't have anything like brochures or other material to back up this claim. He also didn't seem to spend any time trying to go door to door to sell furnaces. Lee said that the furnace salesman bit was just a cover. He actually worked for the government. He was trying to recruit Vern and Lyle Aho to get two years of training and then go to Cuba. They would make a lot of money. [2] Lee did seem to have considerable money to spend. Lee drove a '49 or '50 black Mercury. Lee would drive aound town with Vern Buehler, Doug Jellesed (see Part I) and perhaps Lane Evans (see Part I), Pat Feehan (see Part I), and Lionel Ellis. Lee seemed to always have enough money to go uptown and have pops and such for himself and the guys with him. He always seemed to have the money to buy a hamburger if he wanted one. 
Lee was about 5'10" at the time of their meetings; Lyle Aho estimates he was about 5'6" at that time. Aho described Lee as having dark hair. Aho was shown a series of pictures during two different interviews. [3, 4]

The pictures were taken from a number of sources, most of which showed Oswald, among other persons. The first picture he identified as possibly being Lee was the picture of Oswald as a 12 year old at the zoo in New York City:  "It's a poor picture, possibly, the guy was older than that." [See Groden, 5, p. 12]. The next tentative identification is a picture of Oswald in a classroom in New Orleans in 1955, in which Oswald is holding his head up so that the missing front tooth shows. See Groden. [6, p.16] The next picture which he identified as possibly being Lee is the picture of Oswald alone in Moscow [7, p.44]. Then the picture of Oswald with his coworkers in Moscow [8, p.46] gets the response, "Well, it could be, but you can't see the cheek bones very good." One page had reproduced 77 pictures of Oswald taken throughout his life. [9, p. 240] Lyle picked three of the pictures as , "kinda looking like the guy". They are the backyard photo's showing Oswald with the gun and copies of The Militant and The Daily Worker. In the cropped picture Aho saw, only the head showed. The last picture that Aho recognized as possibly being Lee was Oswald dressed in civilian clothes holding a gun while in the Marines [see 10, p. 63-14]
     Aho doesn't have any particular recollection of the assassination. He was probably in Stanley, but he doesn't recall with any clarity news of the assassination. He did not connect Oswald with the Lee he knew.
     He further described Lee as having a southern accent, probably Texan. He weighed about 150 lbs, and he wore baggy clothes; he was slender. Aho and Buehler thought he might be getting a gang together to rob banks or something.
     Lyle worked on construction for a company known as Brown and Root of Houston, Texas. When asked, "Who owned them?", Aho replied, "Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson". He saw her picture in the company magazine, Ground Builder.
     After the questioning was done, Aho asked of the pictures, "Who is this guy?" He seemed genuinely unaware that he had been looking at pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald.

                   Vern Buehler

     Vern Buehler would have been an important person to contact to corraborate or refute Aho's information. Aho thought Buehler had died sometime in the 1960's. Aho gave us a list of Buehler's siblings. Vern was found to be living in Seatle, WA with his younger brother, Dale. Vern remembered the person named Lee in Stanley, but he was not as close a friend as Lyle remembered him to be. Lee did not live with the Buehler's. Buehler remembered the talk about going to Cuba; he also remembered Lee as a fast talker.
                 An Age Discrepancy

     Aho thought Buehler was the same age as he, but Buehler was born in 1943, and thus would be approximately four years younger than Aho. This would suggest that part of Aho's determination of age was related to size. Lee was about 4 inches taller than him, so he must be somewhat older, by that reasoning. Thus, Aho describing Lee as 3-4 years older is not surprising, even if Lee was a mature looking, 5'10" 16-17 year old youth (which Oswald would have been). 
     What is to be Made of the Oswald-North Dakota connection?

Five hypotheses were addressed in Part I. The same five hypotheses are addressed regarding the Aho sighting:
1. Lee Harvey Oswald did in fact spend a summer in Stanley, ND, using the name Lee.
2. An imposter impersonated Oswald in Stanley, ND.
3. A coincidence occurred where a person innocently was mistaken for Oswald.
4. The report was a figment of the imagination of the reporter, perhaps as a way of gaining the spotlight.
5. The reporter was part of a process of building a "legend" for Oswald.

     Hypothesis four is the most easily discarded. Someone doesn't wait 43 years to get the spotlight. Further, the Aho sighting was confirmed by Vern Buehler, whom Aho thought had been dead for over 30 years. Building a legend for Oswald (hypothesis #5) is easily dismissable. Waiting the 43 years is just too late for the "legend" theory. Hypotheses two and three could be combined into a hybrid hypothesis that a person, whose actual name was Lee may have heard about the Cuba story either from Oswald or someone else. (Castro was in Mexico at the time training troops to get ready to go back to Cuba for the revolution [12])  He might have considered going and was seeing if there were any other takers. It is possible that the actual Lee Harvey Oswald was by the summer of 1956 already a CIA asset, and they had discussed infiltrating Castro's group, then training at Rancho Santo Rosa near Chalco, approximately 20 miles from Mexico City. Such a plan did not come to fruition for Oswald, who shortly thereafter enlisted in the Marines. It is hard to imagine that Oswald and/or his two Stanley companions would get much welcome from Castro. On the other hand, the training site mentioned to Aho might have been U.S. sponsored. Fresh with the idea of going to Cuba, and having enough time to go elsewhere, it is plausible that either Oswald or an Oswald imposter made a return trip to Stanley, which was still in an oil boom. It of course is also plausible that the two Oswald-like sightings are sightings of two completely different persons.
     Since the name Lee is pretty common in the South (Even Lee Harvey Oswald was named after Robert E. Lee), a person who was a Southerner named Lee could well have been in Stanley, ND who was about Oswald's age. The more intriguing aspect is that he was the same height and weight and closely resembled Oswald in looks. Thus we would conclude that an Oswald look-alike was in Stanley in the summer of 1956 (or 1955), who was very suspicious in behavior, with no visible means of support, and who said he was hired by the government to seek persons to go to Cuba. These descriptions might very well fit what we might have expected Oswald to do in the summer of 1956, shortly before he joined the Marines. We would conclude that a person who looked like and acted like Oswald and called himself Lee was in Stanley, ND the summer of 1956. There are a large number of coincidences here. If it wasn't Oswald, it was an Oswald double. If it was an Oswald double, it seems most unlikely that this resemblance would be entirely innocent.
1. Interviews of Mrs. Arlene Clark, Mountrail County Historical        Society, by John Williams and Gary Severson, 8/2/99 & 8/3/99.
2 Interview of Lyle Aho by John Williams and Gary Severson, 8/3/99.  3. Interview of Lyle Aho by John Williams, 8/8/99.  
4. Interview of Lyle Aho by John Williams, Gary Severson, & Jole      Williams 8/14/99.
5. Groden, R.J. (1995). The Search for Lee Harvey Oswald. New York:    Penguin Books.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Roberson, J. (1999). Denial #2. Volume Two. The John Armstrong     Research. Lafayette, IN: Author.
11. Interview of Vern Buehler by Gary Severson, 9/21/99.
12. Youngblood, J. & Moore, R. (1960). The Devil to Pay. New York:     Coward McCann.

From The Fourth Decade: A Journal of Research on the John F. Kennedy Assassination. (2000). 7, 3, 10-22.

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