In my April 21 article, I asked the question Who found Oswald’s Wallet?
In this article I pose the question: Was a phony identification card for “Alek HIdell” inserted into the wallet after it was found?
Listen here to Dallas Police Department Officer Gerald Hill discuss the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963. [Editor’s note: to cut to the chase, go to 3:17 in the audio file.]
Listen for what Hill does not say:
He does not say anything about “Hidell” or an identification card.
Is this omission significant? I think it is.
My previous article recounted the details. FBI agent Bob Barrett said he saw Oswald’s wallet in the hands of DPD Captain Michael Westbrook at the scene of the murder of Dallas police office J.D. Tippit on November 22, 1963.
The article also recounted that the arresting officer, Paul Bentley, told a different story. Bentley said he found Oswald’s wallet while frisking him in the police car after leaving the Texas Theatre where Oswald was arrested on November 22.
Both men say that the wallet contained identification cards for both Lee Harvey Oswald and “Alek Hidell.”
So was Oswald carrying the Alek Hidell ID in his wallet when he was arrested?
He had not been previously seen using the ID card, or the Hidell alias. Oswald wasn’t carrying a “Hidell” ID card in his wallet three months before in August 1963 when he was arrested in New Orleans for fighting with Cuban exiles disturbed by his pro-Castro activism. After his arrest, Oswald said he was in touch with a fellow Castro supporter named “Hidell,” which was a lie.
If Oswald’s wallet containing the Hidell ID card was found on Oswald’s person on November 22, 1963, why do none of the contemporaneous police reports from that day say anything about “Hidell” or an ID card in another name besides Oswald’s?
Bentley did not say that the Hidell ID was in Oswald’s wallet until June 11, 1964. Bentley never testified to the Warren Commission.
The critical question is not whether you believe Oswald created the obviously false Selective Service card identifying him as Alek James Hidell. (Genuine Selective Service cards did not include a photo.) He could have made the phony card in his job at Jaggers-Chiles-Stovall, a photographic production company, where he worked for a few months starting in late 1962.
Another question is why would Oswald carry that card in his wallet on November 22? It wasn’t like he was seeking notoriety after JFK was killed. When asked later that day if he had shot the president, Oswald denied it.
Only on November 23 did the finding of the “Hidell” card become public knowledge in a statement made by Henry Wade, the Dallas district attorney.
That statement came just hours after the FBI allegedly discovered early on the morning of November 23 that “Hidell” had ordered the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle thought to have been used in the assassination, and had it delivered to Oswald’s post office box address.
Mark Lane, the attorney hired by Lee Oswald’s mother, told the Warren Commission that the Hidell card was only found in the wallet after the discovery of Hidell’s mail order rifle purchase. Nonetheless, the Warren Commission refused to let Lane cross-examine the district attorney about the Hidell card and the rifle.
The Secret Service men present for the interrogation of Oswald in the Dallas Police Department headquarters on November 22 recalled no questions about the “Hidell” ID card. And it wasn’t like they were totally in the dark. Oswald had referred to a man named “Hidell” as a Fair Play for Cuba Committee leader and was asked about it on November 22.
From November 23 on, the witnesses who wrote reports on Nov. 22 slowly began to remember that Hidell’s ID was in Oswald’s wallet.
Almost everybody’s story was different, which is noteworthy.
Law enforcement officers are trained to include all relevant data in their reports. It’s hard to think of anything more relevant than the supposed finding of the Hidell ID in Oswald’s wallet on Nov. 22.
Were all these witnesses were given a secret order to not mention the Hidell name? Unlikely.
Was the Hidell ID planted in Oswald’s wallet on Nov. 23?
None of the five officers who drove Oswald from the Texas Theater to the police station mentioned Bentley’s discovery of the Hidell ID in their reports, including Bentley himself.
More than a week after November 22, Bentley’s report of Oswald’s arrest says only that “on the way to the city hall…. I turned his identification over to Lt. Baker. I then went to Captain Westbrook’s office to make a report of the arrest.”
The date of the report was December 3, a rather disquieting 12-day delay, given Bentley’s claim that he went to Westbrook’s office to file a report immediately after the arrest. In any case, Bentley didn’t mention the Hidell ID.
Gerald Hill told the Warren Commission months later that Bentley had found the ID while en route to police headquarters, recalling that it was the same name that had been used to order the rifle. In contrast, hours after the Hidell ID was discovered, here’s what Hill told NBC:
HILL: The only way we found out what his name was was to remove his billfold and check it ourself; he wouldn’t even tell us what his name was….
Q: What was the name on the billfold?
HILL: Lee H. Oswald. O-S-W-A-L-D.
In a radio interview earlier that afternoon, Hill talked at length about Oswald’s time in the USSR and that he was a “communist.” Again he said nothing about the phony Hidell ID.
Bentley’s and Hill’s failure to remember the “Hidell” ID was contagious.
A review of the reports filed by other three officers that transported Oswald from the Texas Theater — Charles T Ford (Dec. 2, 1963), Bob Carroll (Dec. 3), and K.E. Lyons (Dec. 4) — shows that none said anything about finding the “Hidell” ID.
Yet several of them later told the Warren Commission that they remembered the card.
At 10 pm on Nov. 22, FBI agent Manning Clements questioned Oswald and reviewed the contents of his wallet on the desk. Clements said that the Hidell ID was inside the wallet at that time, but Oswald wouldn’t answer any questions about it. Clements’ inventory of wallet cites the Hidell ID, but was not dictated until Nov. 23.
Did Bentley plant the Hidell ID on Oswald on Nov. 22?
Another approach is to look at the consistent statements made by FBI agent Barrett that Westbrook asked him about both Oswald and Tippit at the Hidell murder scene.
JFK researcher Jones Harris suggested that it was logical for patrolmen to avoid referring to the Hidell IDs in their reports. Aliases were common but were not within many officers’ areas of expertise — the authenticity of something like the Hidell ID might be entrusted to a “bunko squad.”
With a horrified world watching on TV, there was pressure to cinch the case as fast as possible and Oswald was the only suspect. In such an atmosphere, it is not surprising they left this troublesome area alone. Even Captain Fritz himself was cautious. His notes indicate that he did not discuss the Hidell card with Oswald while in the presence of the FBI and Secret Service on the Nov. 22.
It was only safe for lower-ranked officers to discuss the Hidell ID after the FBI summary report of early Dec.1963 (known as CD 1.) affirmed that Oswald had the Hidell card on him at the time of his arrest.
What Hill did say
Jones Harris conducted extensive interviews with Gerald Hill, who worked in the Personnel Division with Westbrook. Harris says that Hill was a facts-oriented kind of guy, a reporter who became a policeman, and trusted what Hill told him.
Hill said that when he arrived at the Tippit crime scene, he was approached by an unknown witness. Hill said “the first man that came up to me, he said ‘The man who shot him was a white male about 5 foot 10 inches, weighing 160 to 170 pounds, had on a jacket and a pair of trousers, and brown bushy hair.’”
The height and weight match the inaccurate FBI/CIA Oswald description that was provided by an unknown man minutes after JFK was shot but before Tippit was shot. Hill never learned the man’s name. He turned him over to another officer, and no one knows his identity.
Hill said that he returned to the office at about 3 pm, planning to write his report while it was fresh in his mind. Westbrook came up to Hill and excitedly recounted a long story about Oswald being in the Marines, married to a Soviet citizen, being a defector, a “communist” (which no one else remembers) and more — all of which Hill repeated on the radio later that day, as heard at the beginning of this article.
For his part, Harris remembers Hill saying “I can assure you, Jones, that nobody in Homicide and Robbery sniffed Oswald’s pistol” to see if it had been recently fired. According to Harris, that was Hill’s way of saying that there was pressure to avoid creating any exculpatory evidence that would assist Oswald.
Harris also states that Westbrook had no crime investigation experience, did not wear a police uniform, and had no business being at either the Tippit crime scene or the Texas Theatre.
Because of Westbrook’s rank, he was in charge at both events. Hill was Westbrook’s confidant and cohort. Who knew more about the secrets of the members of the Dallas Police Department than Captain Westbrook at Personnel?
Were Westbrook and Bentley working together? When Bentley examined Oswald’s wallet in the police car, did he slip the Hidell ID inside it?
These assumptions would explain a lot if the wallet examined by Westbrook at the Tippit murder scene was the same wallet that Bentley claimed to find in Oswald’s pocket after leaving the Texas Theatre. On the other hand, if there were two different wallets, these assumptions may explain why the wallets looked so much alike.
The late Sylvia Meagher mapped out much of the above in her 1967 book, Accessories After the Fact. Robert Charles-Dunne’s summary of her work was a big help, as was John Armstrong’s footwork in Harvey and Lee (2003) and the research of Jones Harris and Hasan Yusuf (who does not trust Gerald Hill).
More can be found in my online book State Secret.
My interest in the subject was sparked by this news report on the discovery of Oswald’s wallet, which aired on WFAA-TV in Dallas last November.