Oswald in North Dakota? — Part One —

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Oswald in North Dakota?

— Part One —

by John Delane Williams and Gary Severson

For those familiar with the myriad of events surrounding Dealey Plaza, the idea that Oswald spent time in North Dakota seems a little far fetched. As two North Dakotans who have followed the JFK assassination story, we likewise thought the idea to be novel, but unlikely. The information that we have recently come across would make us revise our prior expectancy regarding an Oswald, or Oswald like person, with a presence in North Dakota. We have come across two independent sets of coincidences that would suggest that either Lee Harvey Oswald, or someone wishing to be identified as Lee Harvey Oswald, can be found to have spent time in North Dakota. Part I deals with an earlier sighting, probably in the summer of 1953. Part II deals with an independent sighting either in the summer of 1955 or 1956.

The Mosby Story

On November 23, 1963, Aline Mosby filed a UP! report that presumably was widely published. In .1959, Mosby [1] interviewed Oswald regarding his defection to the Soviet Union. She asked why he wanted to remain in the Soviet Union. He replied, “I am a Marxist. I became interested about the age of 15. An old lady handed me a pamphlet about saving the Rosenbergs. I still remember that pamphlet about the Rosenbergs-I don’t know why. Then we moved to North Dakota and I discovered one book in the library, “Das Kapital”. It was what I’d been looking for. It was like a very religious man opening the Bible for the first time”. (reprinted in [2].Printed in the exhibits of the Warren Commission were Aline Mosby’s notes of her interview of Oswald in Moscow. [3] A critical difference is that, in the printed notes, instead of “Then we moved to North Dakota…” is the phrase, “Then we moved to New Orleans…” No explanation has been given for this purported substitution. As long term North Dakotans, we observe that nobody goes to North Dakota by mistake, and mistakenly substituting “North Dakota” for “New Orleans” is incredible as well. Some of the other quotes of Oswald in the article are not direct quotes from the notes, but paraphrasing. It would be useful to know whether these notes are the originals, or if there was some alteration of them after the Warren Commission began its work.

The Alma Cole Letter

FBI reports indicate three days of interviewing persons in Stanley, ND, and other locations precipitated by a letter written by Mrs. Alma Cole to Lyndon Johnson on December 11, 1963 (both a facsimile copy and a typescript are reproduced in [4]. The letter follows:


Dec 11, 1963

President Lyndon B. Johnson

Dear Sir:

I don’t know how to write to you, And I don’t know if I should or shouldn’t.My son knew Lee Harvey Oswald when he was at Stanley, North Dakota. I do not recall what year, but it was before Lee Harvey Oswald enlisted in the Marines. The boy read communist books then. He told my son He had a calling to kill the President. My son told me; he ask him. How he would know which one? Lee Harvey Oswald said He didn’t know, but the time and place would be laid before him.

There are others at Stanley who knew Oswald. If you would check, I believe what I have wrote will check out.

Another woman who knew of Oswald and his mother, was Mrs. Francis Jellesed she had the Stanley Cafe, (she’s Mrs. Harry Merbach now.) Her son, I believe, knew Lee Harvey Oswald better than mine did.

Francis & I just thought Oswald a bragging boy. Now we know different. We told our sons to have nothing more to do with him. (I’m sorry, I don’t remember the year.)

This letter is wrote to you in hopes of helping, if it does all I want is A Thank

Mrs. Alma Cole
Rt3Box 1 H
Yuma, Arizona

The FBI Investigation in Stanley, North Dakota


The letter of Alma Cole had an immediate response. On December 21-23, several interviews of witnesses were conducted in Stanley, ND and elsewhere. The FBI interviewed the following people regarding Oswald being in North Dakota:

 

          • — Alma Cole, author of the letter
          • — Mary Wurtz, mother of Alma Cole
          • — William Henry Timmer, son of Alma Cole
          • — Delvin Douglas Jellesed
          • — Mrs. Harry Merbach, mother of Delvin Douglas Jellesed
          • — Jerry Evenson
          • — Bud Will, mayor and owner of the trailer court
          • — Lane Evans
          • — Walter Poulson
          • — Ralph Hamre, Sheriff
          • — Mrs. Elmer Nelson, mother of Jack Feehan

The interview with -William Henry Timmer took place in Spokane, Washington. During the summer of 1953, Timmer recalled that a person known as either Harv or Harvey Oswald, who appeared to be older than Timmer (born 5/14/1941; Lee Harvey Oswald was born 10/19/1939) was observed riding a bike with a chain that kept catching Oswald’s clothes. Timmer met with Oswald several times (apparently between 5 and 12 times). Oswald was recalled having had communist literature, with a pamphlet by Marks (Marx) in his back pocket. Oswald is recalled as having been in a couple of fights. He recalled Oswald said he was from New York City and that, in referring to Stanley,”there wasn’t much to do around this burg” [5]. Timmer invited Oswald to his house to see his pet rabbits; Timmer lived in a trailer with his mother on the grounds of his grandmother’s (Mary Wurtz) house. When Oswald saw Timmer’s mother, he took off. At another meeting with Oswald, Oswald announced “Someday I’m going to kill the president and that will show them”, or words to that effect. Other boys named by Timmer as possibly knowing Oswald were Doug Jellesed, Jack Feehan, Lane Evans and Jerry Evenson. When Oswald left Timmer he would ride his bike south, in the direction of the trailer court owned by Bud Will, also the mayor.

Timmer thought Oswald’s father worked in the oil fields, but didn’t really know. Stanley, which would have had a population of around 850 until 1950, ballooned to around 2500 during the oil boom years, roughly 1950 to 1 960’s or 1970’s; Stanley is now back to around 850 residents. Timmer was sick at the time of the assassination and didn’t pay much attention to events in Dallas. Timmer’s mother sent Timmer a picture of Oswald asking him if that was the boy he knew in Stanley. Timmer recognized the face as being the Oswald he knew in Stanley, whom he recalled as tall and thin; he did not know Oswald’s first name was Lee. Timmer was interviewed by Agent Donald H. Head. [6]


Alma Cole, the mother of William Henry Timmer, was interviewed in Arizona. Mrs. Cole indicated others in Stanley who were acquainted with Oswald were Mrs.Francis Jellesed (now Mrs. Harry Merbach) and her son, Douglas Delvin Jellesed. [7] Mary Wurtz, 80 at the time of the interview, could not recall any of the persons with whom her grandson, William Henry Timmer, had been associated. [8]

Interviews by the FBI of other persons did not seem to corroborate Timmer’s report. Jerry Evenson, who was acquainted with Timmer, did not recall a person named Oswald from the summer of 1953. [9] Bud Will, Mayor of Stanley, and proprietor of the City Trailer and Motel, stated that his records did not show that Lee Harvey Oswald or his mother had ever stayed at his establishment. Will knew Timmer, but did not hear of a fight in the park involving Oswald. [10] Lane Evans stated that he vaguely remembered an incident at the park in Stanley, but that fights among youths at the park were not uncommon. [11] Delvin Douglas Jellesed, a lifelong resident of Stanley, ND, said he was unaware that Lee Harvey Oswald or his mother had ever been residents of Stanley, since this would have been common knowledge in a small town like Stanley, in view of the amount of publicity given Oswald [12]. Mrs. Harry Merbach, the mother of Delvin Douglas Jellesed, indicated that she was not personally acquainted with Lee Harvey Oswald or his mother. She also intimated that Alma Cole, her third cousin, may have a mental condition. [13] Ralph Hamre, Sheriff of Mountrail County (Stanley is the county seat) said that, “to his knowledge, Lee Harvey Oswald had never been a resident at Stanley, North Dakota.” Hamre knew of William Henry Timmer, who he described as an itinerant and unreliable. [14] Another Stanley lifelong resident, Walter Poulson, denied ever having known Lee Harvey Oswald. [15]

Other References to North Dakota

On 12/20/63, J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director, sent a teletype to SACS in Dallas, Phoenix and Minneapolis. In the communication Hoover states, “For information newspaper articles in one nine five nine [1959] when subject defected to Russia quoted him as saying he lived in North Dakota.” [16] A note at the end of the letter indicates the December 11, 1963 letter of Alma Cole was turned over to the FBI on December 19, 1963. [17] On August 12-13, 1964, a hearing by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee was being held. On these days, Abba P. Schwartz was being questioned by J.G.Sourwine, Chief Counsel. On August 12, this interchange took place:

Mr. Sourwine: All right. You have yourself, of course, reviewed the state department file on Lee Harvey Oswald?

Mr. Schwartz: Yes, we went through that very carefully.

Mr. Sourwine: Does that reflect when Oswald moved to North Dakota?

Mr. Schwartz: North Dakota? I’m sorry. That doesn’t ring a bell.

Mr. Sourwine: Does it show when?

Mr. Schwartz: I don’t, I mean, the place doesn’t ring a bell.

Mr. Sourwine: Does it show where he lived in North Dakota?

Mr. Schwartz: I have no recollection of North Dakota.

Mr. Sourwine: No recollection, no mention of possible Communist activities in North Dakota?

Mr. Schwartz: No sir, I have no recollection.

On the next day, the questioning continued. Mr.Schwartz reiterated he could recall nothing in the Oswald file about North Dakota. [18]

Note: J.G. Sourwine died July 22, 1986.

Interview with William Henry Timmer


William Henry Timmer was interviewed on October 27, 1994, by John Armstrong. [19] This was apparently the second time he had been contacted by anyone researching the assassination since he had been interviewed by the FBI in 1963.Thefirst time occurred sometime in the 1960’s by the BBC; that interview has as yet not been made available to the public. [20] Timmer confirmed his original statements made to the FBI in 1963, adding a few previously unreported details. Timmer said that Oswald’s father, whom he never met, was reported to have been working in the oil fields. Oswald was remembered to be about 6-7 inches taller than Timmer in the summer of 1963. Timmer was 12 at the time, and perhaps smaller than his contemporaries. Timmer’s adult height is 5’7″. Timmer had a heart problem that kept him from activities like playing baseball. In the interview, Armstrong gave two instances of Oswald saying he had moved to North Dakota, one in the article by Aline Mosby, and the second in Oswald’s telling Lt. Francis Martello after his arrest in New Orleans for the disturbance related to distributing the Fair Play for Cuba leaflets. Timmer apparently has tired of talking to JFK assassination researchers. Timmer has refused to talk about the events in North Dakota to both of these writers, most recently November 19, 1999.

Interviews with Alma Cole

Two interviews were held with Alma Cole, mother of William Henry Timmer. [21] Several significant points were raised. First, Mrs. Marguerite Oswald was said by Cole to be living in Stanley for the duration of time Lee Harvey Oswald was in North Dakota. She was pointed out to Mrs. Cole in a Stanley dress shop by Cole’s cousin Frances Jellesed, who had seen Mrs. Oswald at her restaurant in Stanley. Mrs. Oswald was loud and wanted everyone to know she was from Texas. Mrs. Oswald was described as having grey hair, glasses, and was at most, 5’3″ tall. Also, Cole indicated that her son had told her that the boy wanted to be called “Lee Harvey” rather than just “Lee”. Her son was with Oswald when he stole the book by Marx from a small library in a room of the Memorial Building in Stanley.

Interviews with Jerry Evenson and Lane Evans

Jerry Evenson has kept in touch with Bill Timmer and had visited him in the summer of 1999. Timmer has never talked about the Oswald incident to Evenson. Timmer is not a “bullshitter” in Evenson’s view. Evenson has thought often about the FBI interview 36 years ago. Evenson’s FBI interview took place at the Mountrail County Courthouse in Stanley. The only person present other than Evenson and SA Fred Harvey was Sheriff Ralph Hamre. [22]

Lane Evans does recall a fight on the south side of Stanley where the present swimming pool is. The fight involved an out of town person. Evans cannot recall who was present. The FBI did not tell him not to talk about the interview. Evans was acquainted with Timmer, Jellesed, Evenson, Jack Feehan, Lyle Aho and Vern Buehler [23] for the significance of the last two persons named, see Part II.]

Interview with Jack Feehan

Jack Feehan was scheduled to be interviewed by the FBI. The FBI spoke to his mother, Mrs. Elmer Nelson; they then decided it was not necessary to speak to Feehan himself. We contacted Feehan through his son Greg. Jack Feehan said that he had never discussed the Harvey Oswald experience with Timmer, though they have remained in contact. Feehan had no recollection of Harvey Oswald himself. [24] In a more recent interview with Greg Feehan, it was related that Jack Feehan called Timmer (after the 10/3/99 interview with Gary Severson) and asked about the Oswald circumstances. Greg Feehan was told by his father that Timmer denied knowing anything about the Oswald events. [25].

Interviews with Keith Schulte and Russel Kilen

Keith Schulte, States Attorney for Mountrail County, 1947-1957, and 1960-1975, had never heard of the FBI coming to Stanley regarding investigations of the Kennedy assassination. He thought that Sheriff Hamre and Mayor Will would surely have told him about being interviewed by the FBI. [26] Similiar views were expressed by Russel Kilen, editor of the Mountrail County Promoter, 1946-1979. [27] In that both these gentlemen expressed friendships with the sheriff and the mayor, their expectations of communications in these matters were not met. Dan Will, son of ex-Mayor Bud Will, said that his father never mentioned being interviewed by the FBI in regard to an investigation of the assassination. [28]

What is to be Made of the Harvey Oswald-North Dakota connection?

There are several hypotheses that could be made about these Oswald sightings in North Dakota:

1. Lee Harvey Oswald did in fact spend part of the summer of 1953 in Stanley, ND.

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 reporters, perhaps as a way of gaining the spotlight.

5. The reporters were part of a process of building a “legend” for Oswald.

Testing the Hypotheses Regarding Harvey Oswald

Hypothesis three is the most easily discarded. It is most unlikely that a person would be named Harvey Oswald, be from New York City, be Lee Harvey Oswald’s age, and be spending the summer in Stanley, ND, and not be in any manner related to “the” Lee Harvey Oswald. The fifth hypothesis, building a “legend”, is improbable as well. Alma Cole was a legitimate Stanley-vicinity resident for much of her life prior to moving to Yuma, Arizona (probably around 1959) where she lived at the time of writing her letter to President Johnson. Her husband apparently worked in construction both before and after the summer of 1953; nothing in their background is suggestive of a clandestine nature. Bill Timmer hasbeen a barber throughout his life. These are not the sort of people who are likely to attempt to create a legend. The fourth hypothesis has little to recommend it either. Publicity seekers don’t just tell their story to the FBI and then sit on the story for over thirty years. (There is the exception that Timmer spoke to the BBC in the 1960’s in the still unpublished interview.) Timmer seems to be a very private person who avoids media contact; his recent denial to Jack Feehan can be interpreted in several ways. Our interpretation is that he wants to be allowed to live his life without revisiting the past. Alma Cole also has not attempted to seek circulation for her story. That leaves us with hypotheses one and two. If Oswald did in fact visit Stanley, ND in the summer of 1953, and proclaim that he would someday kill the president, then the government has long suppressed evidence that Oswald had a lifelong dream of being an assassin. The more dangerous hypothesis to the Warren Commission’s findings is hypothesis two, an imposter was the Harvey Oswald in Stanley. Were hypothesis two true, then the developing of a legend seems to be the likely rationale. We assert that, with present evidence, either hypothesis one or hypothesis two is most likely. Either Oswald was physically present in North Dakota in 1953, or someone impersonating him was in Stanley.

Notes

1. Mosby, A. (1963). Oswald Interview Recalled: UP! Reporter Talked to Defector in Moscow. UPI report; copy in Lee Harvey Oswald Sightings (1999). Dal las, TX: JFK Lancer.

2. Lee Harvey Oswald Sightings (1999). Dallas, TX: JFK Lancer.

3. WCE XXII:701 -71 0.

4.Cole letter to President Johnson, Dec 11, 1963. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461. Re-printed in Robertson, J. (1999). Denial #2. Volume Two. The John Armstrong Research. Lafayette, IN: Author.

5. FBI Interview of William Henry Timmer by SA Donald H. Head. FBI file SE 89-47. Seattle, WA.

6. Ibid.

7. F3l report from SAC, Minneapolis to FBI Director, & SACS in Dallas and San Antonio, 12/21/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

8. FBI Interview of Mary Wurtz by SA Fred Harvey in Stanley, ND 12/23/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

9. FBI interview of Jerry Evanson by SA Fred Harvey in Stanley, ND 12/23/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

10. FBI interview of Bud Will by SA Fred Harvey in Stanley, ND 12/23/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

11. FBI interview of Lane Evans by SA Fred Harvey in New Town, ND 12/23/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

12. FBI Interview of Delvin Douglas Jellesed by SA Douglas H. Smith in Stanley, ND 12/21/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

13. FBI report from SAC, Minneapolis to FBI Director, & SAC’s in Dallas and San Antonio, 12/21/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

14. FBI Interview of Ralph Hamre in Stanley, ND 12/21/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

15. FBI Interview of Walter Poulson in Stanley, ND 12/21/63. FBI file Minneapolis 105-2564; Dallas 100-10461.

16. Letter of FBI Director, 12/20/63. Record Number105-82555-1226.

17. Ibid.

18. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, 1963-65,1232-1233.

19. Interview of William Timmer by John Armstrong 10/27/94; copy from J. Armstrong.

20. Interview of Mrs. Alma Cole by Gary Severson, 9/24/99.

21. Interviews of Mrs. Alma Cole by Gary Severson, 9/8/99, 9/24/99.

22. Interview of Jerry Evenson by Gary Severson, 10/3/99.

23. Interview of Lane Evans by Gary Severson, 10/3/99.

24. Interview of Jack Feehan by Gary Severson,10/3/99.

25. Interview of Greg Feehan by Gary Severson, 12/7/99.

26. Interview of Keith Schulte by Gary Severson and John Williams, 8/2/99.

27. Interview of Russel Kilen by Gary Severson and John Williams, 8/2/99.

28. Interview of Don Will by Gary Severson, 9/22/99.

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