At 5 p.m, a police car, siren wailing, arrived at the
Breakers Hotel. It had come for me. A Sheriff's deputy
explained that the States Attorney needed to see me
because I was apparently the last person to have seen
George De Mohrenschildt alive. De Mohrenschildt, who
was a key witness in the Kennedy assassination, had
died an hour before from a gunshot wound to his head.
The news came as a shock. I had
been in the midst of a four- day interview with De Mohrenschildt,
for which I had agreed to pay him a $4,000 "honorarium."
I had never before paid anyone for an interview, but
De Mohrenschildt had had an extraordinary relationship
with the subject of my book, Lee Harvey Oswald. I had
reason to believe that he might have been in a position
to cast light on Oswald's prior entanglement in the
web of intelligence services. He had been, as far as
I was concerned, a man of considerable mystery. Even
his date of birth—"1911," on one passport, "1914" on
another— was in doubt. He had emigrated from Russia
via various European countries to the United States
in May 1938, and claimed such diverse occupations as
insurance salesman, film producer, journalist and textile
salesman. In addition, British intelligence suggested
that he may have been working for German intelligence.
In any case, when he tried to join
the OSS in 1941, he had been "security disapproved"
because of his associations with German espionage agents.
He then got involved in the oil business after the war,
became a social figure in Dallas and traveled extensively
around the world. In 1962, he befriended Oswald, who
had just returned from Russia to Dallas, and introduced
him to many people. Then, in the spring of 1963, just
after Oswald attempted to assassinate General Edwin
A. Walker, he abruptly broke off all contact with Oswald,
and moved to Haiti, where he remained for over ten years.
What had brought De Mohrenschildt
to the attention of the Warren Commission was Marina
Oswald's testimony that De Mohrenschildt had rushed
up the stairs of Oswald's house after he missed Walker
and shouted, "Lee, how did you miss General Walker?"
So he had to return from Haiti to testify. When questioned
about this remark by the Commission, De Mohrenschildt
shrugged it off as nothing more than an unfortunate
coincidence: a "joke." He then returned to the obscurity
of Haiti and gave no more interviews.
He returned to the U.S. in the mid-1960s.
I first interviewed him on April 22, 1976, but he was
not forthcoming. Then, he mysteriously vanished in Europe.
When he returned in 1977, he informed me that he needed
money. At that point, I offered him a $1,000 a day for
a 4-day interview. The first day had gone well. With
the help of my research assistant, Nancy Lanoue, I managed
to fill in many of the gaps in his career prior to his
Then, this morning, I asked him
about why he, a socialite in Dallas, sought out Oswald,
a defector. His explanation, if believed, put the assassination
in a new and unnerving context. He said that although
he had never been a paid employee of the CIA, he had
"on occasion done favors" for CIA connected officials.
In turn, they had helped in his business contacts overseas.
By way of example, he pointed to the contract for a
survey of the Yugoslavian coast awarded to him in 1957.
He assumed his "CIA connections" had arranged it for
him and he provided them with reports on the Yugoslav
officials in whom they had expressed interest.
In late 1961— De Mohrenschildt could
not pinpoint the date— he said had a lunchtime meeting
in downtown Dallas with one of these connections; J.
Walter Moore. Moore steered their conversation to the
city of Minsk, where, as Moore seemed to know even before
he told him, De Mohrenschildt had spent his childhood.
Moore worked for the CIA's domestic contact service
in Dallas. He told De Mohrenschildt about an ex-American
Marine who had worked in an electronics factory in Minsk
for the past year, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was returning
to the Dallas area. Although no specific requests were
made by Moore, De Mohrenschildt gathered that Moore
would be appreciative to learn more about Oswald's activities
in Minsk.At this time, he was extremely busy trying
to arrange for Papa Doc Duvalier, the Haitian dictator,
to approve his oil exploration deal in that country.
Some help from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti would be greatly
appreciated by him, he suggested to Moore. Although
he recognized that there was no quid pro quo, he hoped
that he might receive the same sort of tacit assistance
that he had previously received in Yugoslavia. "I would
never have contacted Oswald in a million years, if Moore
had not sanctioned it," he explained to me "Too much
was at stake."
When Oswald arrived in Dallas, De
Mohrenschildt paid a visit to his house because, he
explained to me, he "assumed that was what Moore wanted."
He then conducted an unwitting debriefing of Oswald
— a subtle questioning in which the subject, Oswald,
in this case, did not realize he was being debriefed.
As he won Oswald's confidence, he
not only drew him out about his experiences in Minsk
but, with flattery, he encouraged him to write a detailed
memoir for publication in a magazine. He also offered
to help edit and select photographs for it -- an offer
that provided him with a plausible reason for continuing
to probe Oswald's past. When he found out Oswald had
written his memoir that described, among other things,
his work in the electronics factory, he borrowed it
from him and told Moore.
During that fall De Mohrenschildt
also had introduced Oswald to potential employers in
the electronics business. He said he wanted to stimulate
Oswald to discuss his work in the Minsk factory, which
he assumed would be of interest to Moore.
In mid March 1963, De Mohrenschildt
got the lucrative Haitian government contract for which
he had been waiting. He had assumed that it had been
helped along by the work he was doing for Moore.
But it then became apparent to him
that he had become a much closer confidant of Oswald
than he realized. In early April, Marina gave him a
curious memento from Oswald. It was an inscribed photograph
showing Oswald dressed in black, holding, in one hand,
the radical newspaper The Militant and, in the other,
the sniper's rifle with the telescopic sight-- that
he had shown De Mohrenschildt the week before. The photograph
was signed "For George, Lee Harvey Oswald" and dated
April 5th, 1963. Marina had derisively scribbled in
Russian "Hunter of Fascists. Ha. Ha." That "Ha Ha" became
less a joke to De Mohrenschildt on April 10th when De
Mohrenschildt heard on the radio that a sniper had fired
a shot at General Walker. Only a few weeks before, in
the company of three young geologists, he recalled that
he had heard Oswald single out Walker as a "fascist"
that should be dealt with, and, when one the geologists
egged him by talking of an assassination plot against
Hitler, Oswald answered that Hitler should have been
shot before he ever achieved power. He thus had a "pretty
good suspicion who had taken the potshot" at Walker.
I interrupted. "So you knew Oswald
had tried to assassinate Walker, what did you do about
He said he immediately rushed over
to Oswald's house to find out what had happened and
if Oswald had disposed of the rifle. He recalled being
very frightened, as was his wife, Jean. He feared that
he could be implicated, and the CIA might cut off support
for his Haitian contract. at risk, that night was the
last time he ever saw Oswald.
I then asked him whether he had reported
the assassination attempt -- and the telltale photograph
--to Moore. He said "I spoke to the CIA both before
and afterwards. It was what ruined me." If so, the CIA
had in its possession information and a photograph identifying
Oswald as a potential assassin some six months before
Kennedy came to Dallas. But it was a big "if"-- and
serious problems with the story he was now telling.
Why had De Mohrenschildt not turned over this evidence
to the FBI when he was questioned or to the Warren Commission
when he testified? Concealing such evidence could be
a crime-- especially since it could have shown that
De Mohrenschildt and others had prior knowledge about
Oswald's assassination potential. His prior failure
to tell the FBI about the photograph even could be construed
as a possible obstruction of justice. To be sure, part
of his new story fit the established facts. J. Walter
Moore was indeed in the CIA's Domestic Contact Service
in Dallas which had responsibility for debriefing returning
visitors from the Soviet Union that had potential intelligence
of value. And Moore had been in contact with De Mohrenschildt.
He had debriefed him in 1958 on his work in Yugoslavia
which, according to CIA records, he had disseminated
the resulting reports to ten government agencies.
There was also some indication the
Domestic Contact Service in Dallas might have been asked
to debrief Oswald. According to a memorandum given to
the Warren Commission by the CIA, the CIA had placed
a look-out card in his file after learning in 1961 he
was returning to the Dallas, and a CIA officer recalled
suggesting that Oswald and his wife be debriefed through
the Domestic Contact Service. So it could have happened,
but there was no documentation showing that Moore had
received this heads-up, or had been in touch with De
Mohrenschildt after Oswald had returned to Dallas in
1962. Was De Mohrenschildt now dragging the CIA into
his relation with Oswald as a red herring— or had the
Warren Commission missed a critical link between the
CIA and Oswald?
I asked whether he had any proof
the inscribed photograph existed. He offered to make
the photograph available to men through his lawyer,
Pat Russell, and I could verify the handwriting of Oswald's
and Marina's. He then opened up his thick black address
book and wrote out Russell's phone number.
It was now 1:30 p.m. and we decided
to break for lunch. We agreed to meet again at 3 p.m.
Just after De Mohrenschildt left the room I noticed
that he had left his address book on the couch and mentioned
it to Nancy. A few minutes later, there was a knock
on the door. I realized he had returned for his address
book which I handed back to him. It was the last time
I saw him.
David Bludworth, The State's Attorney,
was a folksy, charming and savvy interrogator. He began
by telling me that De Mohrenschildt had put a shotgun
in his mouth and killed himself at 3:45 p.m. There were
no witnesses— and no one home at the time of the shooting.
The precise time of his death was established by a tape-recorder,
left running that afternoon to record the soap operas
for the absent Mrs. Tilton, and which recorded a single
set of footfalls in the room and the blast of the shotgun,
which was found on the Persian carpet next to him. No
suicide note or other clue was found. He said I was
probably the last person to talk to him. Then, he asked
whether I had in my possession De Mohrenschildt's black
address book. I replied "No." He politely rephrased
the question, and asked me again--about a half-dozen
times, whether I had the black book. (I wondered whether
this line of questioning proceeded from De Mohrenschildt
having told someone else that he had left his book in
my room— or, even somehow my remark that he had left
his book had been overheard.)
Gradually, the questioning became
more relaxed and Nancy and went for a drink with Bludworth.
He then told us that De Mohrenschildt's sudden death
had caused "havoc" in Washington. The House Select Committee
on Assassinations believed that De Mohrenschildt was
a "crucial witness" and, for the past week, had the
FBI search for him in three countries. Just that day,
after locating him in Palm Beach, the Committee had
dispatched one of its investigators to subpoena him.
Bludworth knew this, he continued, because that investigator's
card had been found at the Tilton mansion. Bludworth's
theory was that De Mohrenschildt returned from his interview
with me, saw the card, realized he was going to have
to testify on this subject, and, not being able to face
that ordeal, killed himself with the shotgun.
I asked at this point why he was
concerned about the missing black book.
"Don't worry about that," he answered.
The banner headline of the New York
Post that night was "KEY JFK WITNESS KILLS HIMSELF."
March 31, 1977
Two FBI agents arrived at my hotel.
They were both polite and precise in their questions.
They asked me how I had located De Mohrenschildt in
They explained that Just two weeks
before he had turned up in Florida, De Mohrenschildt
had literally "vanished" from the Hotel Metropole in
Brussels, leaving his luggage, raincoat and pipe behind
in his room-- just minutes before he had been scheduled
to meet with a Soviet diplomat. After he was reported
missing in Belgium, he had reportedly flown from London
and New York. They wanted to know if De Mohrenschildt
had not given me any of his personal papers. When I
said "No," they thanked me for my time and left.
There was a phone message from Nancy,
who had gone back to New York. The lawyer, Pat Russell,
had sent the photograph. It was, as De Mohrenschildt
had described it, a copy of the celebrated backyard
photograph of Oswald with the rifle that appeared in
the Warren Report. But on the back it had a date and
handwriting. A handwriting expert who had been working
with me, Thea Hall, immediately identified both the
dating and the inscription as Oswald's writing concluded
the Russian printing on reverse side was consistent
with Marina's handwriting. So now I knew De Mohrenschildt
had been given this incriminating photograph before
the assassination— but it did not answer the real issue
of whether he had passed it on to the CIA.