The JFK 100

Lee Harvey Oswald in Custody

Gary Oldman as accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald


In Oliver Stone's JFK, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) comments on the conduct of the Dallas Police Department's handling of Lee Harvey Oswald's arrest and interrogations.

Let's see how accurate Stone's allegations are.

"Oswald must've felt like Josef K in Kafka's The Trial," Garrison (Costner) says. "He was never told the reason of his arrest, he does not know the unseen forces ranging against him, he cries out his outrage in the police lineup just like Josef K excoriates the judge for not being told the charges against him."(1)

Is Oliver Stone serious? As discussed in The JFK 100: Arrest in the Texas Theatre, when Lee Harvey Oswald was approached by Dallas police officer Nick McDonald in the Texas Theatre, McDonald did not even have a chance to ask the young man a single question before Oswald struck the officer in the face, and -- as witnessed by numerous individuals, both police officers and civilians -- drew his gun and tried to murder him.

Has Oliver Stone read not a single word of the eyewitness testimony concerning Lee Harvey Oswald's arrest?

Police officer Ray Hawkins saw Oswald punch Nick McDonald in the face and draw his gun on McDonald. He heard the hammer snap as Oswald attempted to fire the gun at McDonald; McDonald saved his own life by jamming the webbing of his hand in between the hammer and the action of Oswald's revolver.

Police officer C. T. Walker saw Oswald punch McDonald and draw his gun. He heard the snap of the hammer.

Officer T. A. Hutson saw Oswald strike McDonald and draw his gun. He too heard the hammer snap.

Bystander Johnny Calvin Brewer, the shoestore manager who had seen Oswald acting suspiciously on Jefferson Street and alerted the police, saw Oswald punch McDonald and draw his gun.

Texas Theatre patron George Jefferson Applin saw Oswald strike McDonald and saw him bring his revolver up. He too heard the snap of the hammer as Oswald tried to fire.

Theater patron John Gibson saw Oswald pull his gun on McDonald and heard the hammer snap as McDonald grabbed him.

Officer M. N. "Nick" McDonald testified in detail about Oswald's actions; had McDonald not gotten ahold of Oswald's weapon, he would have been the second police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald that day.


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M. N. "Nick" McDonald on Nov. 22, 1963



Oswald struggled so fiercely that it took at least six police officers to subdue him, including Officers McDonald, Hawkins, Walker, Hutson, Sgt. Gerald Lynn Hill, and Detective Bob Carroll.

Then what was it he cried out to the crowd that had gathered as he was led from the theater, according to eyewitness Johnny Calvin Brewer? "I am not resisting arrest!"(2)

In an interview with researcher Steve Bochan, FBI agent Jim Hosty, who interviewed Oswald in police custody, insightfully refers to statements such as this as Oswald's "public persona."


HOSTY: Now he took that persona as he was led out of the movie theater. People were yelling to lynch him and he was yelling, "police brutality, police brutality!" He was trying to turn the people against the police.

BOCHAN: Right, so he seemed to know how he was coming across to an audience . . .

HOSTY: Right.


Hosty's recollections serve to remind us that that, contrary to the impressions fostered by people like Oliver Stone, the decision to charge Oswald with the murder of Officer J. D. Tippit was anything but a whim:


HOSTY: Well, of course there was no speculation while Oswald was alive. There were five witnesses that saw him do it [shoot Officer Tippit]. And he was tracked down and they picked him out of a line-up, so there's no question . . . and he was arrested with his pistol, and then he tried to shoot another police officer when he was arrested, so then I mean, that's not the act of an innocent person.

BOCHAN: Many people point that out.

HOSTY: And he did not, at any time during interrogation by the police and FBI, state that he was a "patsy." That was to the press only.


Hosty should know. He was there.

Oswald complained at a press conference that evening, as Oliver Stone is quick to point out, that he had no idea what was going on or what he was charged with. Plain and simple, Oswald was lying. It was all part of what Hosty calls Oswald's public persona.

Five police officers had been in the car with Oswald as he was driven to police headquarters, including C. T. Walker, Paul Bentley, and Gerald Hill. "What is this all about?" Oswald demanded. "I know my rights."(3)

Officer C. T. Walker testified, "And we told him . . . that he was under arrest because . . . he was suspected in the murder of a police officer. And he said, 'Police officer been killed?' And nobody said nothing. He said, 'I hear they burn for murder.' And I said, 'You might find out.' And he said, 'Well, they say it just takes a second to die.' And that is all I recall. Now we talked some more going down, but that is the thing that I recall."(4)

"Do you recall any other conversation that you had with him, or not?" Walker was asked by Warren Commission counsel David W. Belin.

"No; he was just denying it," Walker replied, "and he was saying that all he did was carry a gun, and the reason he fought back in the theater is, he knew he wasn't supposed to be carrying a gun, and he had never been to jail."(5)

Thirty years later, Detective Paul Bentley recalled the conversation between Walker and Oswald vividly, and confirmed it to researcher Gus Russo in every detail.(6)

"Did you kill our beloved President?" Bentley asked Oswald. "You find out your own way," Oswald replied.(7)

"Oswald was very surly -- very cocky," Gerald Hill recalls. "He was the kind of person that had it been under different circumstances, you would have wanted to hit him."(8)

"I haven't done anything I'm ashamed of," Hill recalls Oswald saying.(9)

Reporter Lonnie Hudkins interviewed Oswald shortly after he had been brought in. "Why did you kill Officer Tippit?" Hudkins asked him. His response was virtually identical to the one he had given to Officer Walker shortly before: "Someone get killed? Policeman get killed?" Then he said something that would have sounded familiar to Gerald Hill: "I haven't done anything I'm ashamed of."(10)

Oswald was questioned all afternoon about both the Tippit shooting and the assassination of the President.(11) He was arraigned for the murder of J. D. Tippit at about 7:10 PM that evening.(12) He was then taken back to Captain Will Fritz's office and questioned further about both the Tippit and Kennedy shootings -- predominantly the President's assassination.(13)

Oswald's statements at the press conference were part of his "public persona," designed to appeal to his audience's sympathy and pity. Those who later familiarized themselves with the evidence in the Kennedy and Tippit murders and the record of Oswald's interrogations would not be fooled; Oliver Stone, however, is not one of those people.


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Lee Harvey Oswald


"No legal counsel is provided [to Oswald]," Oliver Stone claims. Where did Stone get this idea? Why, Oswald himself requested legal counsel that night, during the police department's midnight press conference. But Stone did not bother to dig any more deeply than this, otherwise he might have found out the truth -- that this was nothing but another deceitful expression of Oswald's public persona.(14)

Captain Will Fritz of the Dallas Police Department's Homicide unit conducted the bulk of the interrogations with Oswald. Before beginning, Fritz informed the suspect of his right to not be compelled to make a statement, and that any statements he did make could be used against him.(15)

Early on in the questioning Friday afternoon, "Oswald asked if he was allowed an attorney," Fritz writes in his official report of the interrogation sessions, "and I told him he could have any attorney he liked, and that the telephone would be available to him up in the jail and he could call anyone he wished. I believe it was during this interview that he first expressed a desire to talk to Mr. Abt, an attorney in New York."(16) John Abt was an attorney whose clients included the US Communist Party (CPUSA).

During a subsequent interrogation, Fritz writes, "He [Oswald] reminded me that he did not have to answer any questions at all until he talked to his attorney, and I told him again that the could have an attorney any time he wished. He said he didn't have money to pay for a phone call to Mr. Abt. I told him to call 'collect,' if he liked, to use the jail phone or that he could have another attorney if he wished. He said he didn't want another attorney, he wanted to talk to this attorney first. I believe he made this call later as he thanked me later during one of our interviews for allowing him the use of the telephone. I explained to him that all prisoners were allowed to use the telephone. I asked him why he wanted Mr. Abt, instead of some available attorney. He told me he didn't know Mr. Abt personally but that he was familiar with a case where Mr. Abt defended some people for a violation of the Smith Act, and that if he didn't get Mr. Abt, that he felt sure the American Civil Liberties Union would furnish him a lawyer. He explained to me that this organization helped people who needed attorneys and weren't able to get them."(17)

At about 7:10 Friday evening Oswald was arraigned for the murder of Officer J. D. Tippit by Justice of the Peace David Johnston. Oswald was advised of his rights again at this time, including the right to an attorney.(18)

Dallas Police Detective Elmer L. Boyd was present during some of the lineups in which Oswald participated. Boyd was deposed for the Warren Commission by Commission counsel Joseph Ball:


Mr. BALL. Did he [Oswald] ask for a lawyer?

Mr. BOYD. Well, let me see, he wanted to get in touch with a lawyer -- I believe it was a lawyer by the name of Abt [spelling] A-b-t in New York City.

Mr. BALL. When did he say that? When did he tell you that?

Mr. BOYD. It was either right before the first showup, or right after the first showup.

Mr. BALL. What did you tell him?

Mr. BOYD. Captain Fritz said he would -- he didn't ask me, he was talking to Captain Fritz -- yes.

Mr. BALL. . . . What did Fritz say?

Mr. BOYD. He said he would see if he could make arrangements later on for him to use the telephone later on and call him.(19)


The following morning, Detective Boyd was present when Captain Fritz again advised Oswald of his right to counsel. "[D]id he want a lawyer here, Captain Fritz . . . asked him, and he said he didn't want a lawyer, he wanted Mr. Abt."(20)

A slip of paper found on Oswald's person after he was shot to death by Jack Ruby shows Oswald had written down John Abt's name and phone number. Oswald tried several times unsuccessfully to place a collect call to Abt.(21)

Oswald's mother, Marguerite Oswald, spoke to her son the following day. She later recalled to the Warren Commission:


I talked and said, "Is there anything I can do to help you?"

He said, "No, Mother, everything is fine. I know my rights, and I will have an attorney. I have already requested to get in touch with Attorney Abt," I think is the name. "Don't worry about a thing."(22)


Saturday afternoon at around 3:30 or 4:00 PM, Ruth Paine, a friend of Oswald's wife, Marina, received a phone call from Oswald. Mrs. Paine testified to Warren Commission counsel Albert Jenner:


Mrs. PAINE. I said, "Well, hi." And he said he wanted to ask me to call Mr. John Abt in New York for him after 6 PM. He gave me a telephone number of an office in New York and a residence in New York. . . . He said he was an attorney he wanted to have. . . . To represent him. He thanked me for my concern.

Mr. JENNER. Did he tell you or ask you what you were to do or say to Mr. Abt if you reached him?

Mrs. PAINE. I carried the clear impression I was to ask him if he would serve as attorney for Lee Oswald.(23)


Mrs. Paine tried to reach Abt, but could not get an answer at either his office or his home.(24)

Later, Marguerite Oswald received a phone call from Ruth Paine:


. . . [T]he telephone rang, and it was Mrs. Paine. She said, "Mrs. Oswald, Lee called and he was very upset because Marina was not with me, and he asked me to get a lawyer for him, a Mr. Abt."(25)


Next occurred an event that Oliver Stone surely knows about if he has read the Warren Commission Report, but clearly contradicts the filmmaker's claim.

At about 5:00 PM Saturday evening, H. Louis Nichols, President of the Dallas Bar Association, visited Oswald in his jail cell. He had received a number of phone calls from attorneys who had heard Oswald speak at the midnight press conference and were concerned that he was being denied legal representation.

During his Warren Commission deposition, Nichols testified:


The chief [Police Chief Jesse Curry] had the officer open the door, and he introduced me to Oswald, and told him my name and said that I was the president of the Dallas Bar Association and had come up to see him about whether or not he needed or wanted a lawyer. . . . I reintroduced myself to Oswald and told him my name, and that I was president of the Dallas bar, and that I had come up to see him about whether or not he had a lawyer, or needed a lawyer, or wanted a lawyer, and suggested that he sit down.

[H]e sat on one bunk and I sat on the other . . . and I asked him if he had a lawyer, and he said, well, he really didn't know what it was all about, that he was -- had been incarcerated, and kept incommunicado, and I said, "Well, I have come up to see whether or not you want a lawyer . . ." and . . . he asked me first did I know a lawyer in New York named John Abt. . . . I said I didn't know him, and he said, "Well, I would like to have him to represent me," and . . . I had been told that some effort had been made to get hold of Mr. Abt . . . Then he asked me if I knew any lawyers who were members of the American Civil Liberties Union, and he said, "Well, I am a member of that organization, and I would like to have somebody who is a member of that organization represent me." And I said, "I'm sorry, I don't know anybody who is a member of that organization." . . . He said, "Well, if I can't get either one of those . . . Either Mr. Abt or someone who is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and if I can find a lawyer here who believes in anything I believe in, and believes as I believe, and believes in my innocence . . . as much as he can, I might let him represent me."

I said, "What I am interested in knowing is right now, do you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to try to get you a lawyer?"

He said, "No, not now."

He said, "You might come back next week, and if I don't get some of these other people to represent me, I might ask you to get somebody to represent me."

I said, "Well, now, all I want to do is to make it clear to you, and to me, whether or not you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to do anything about getting a lawyer right now."

And he said, "No."

I was satisfied in my own mind that he knew what he was doing, and that he didn't want me or the Dallas Bar Association to do anything right now. So, I left, and as I left the chief asked me whether or not I wanted to make a statement to the press, and I said, "Well, I don't know whether I do or not. I don't know whether it is the thing to do or not." And he said, "Well, they are going to be right outside the door there, and if you want to say anything this would be an opportunity to do it."

He said, "Incidentally, I am very glad you came up here. We don't want any question coming up about us refusing to let him have a lawyer."(26)


One of the last things Oswald said Sunday morning, just prior to his abortive transfer to the county jail, was a remark to Postal Inspector Harry D. Holmes, that he was trying to reach John Abt in New York, and that he would prefer Abt to any local attorney.(27)

But Oliver Stone isn't finished yet.

"No record [was] made of the long questioning," Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) declares to the jury.

Well, no, not with a tape recorder; that's true enough.

But detailed written reports were filed by each of Oswald's interrogators that weekend; many of these were collected as Appendix XI of the Warren Report, where they occupy some forty pages. They can be read online at Ralph Schuster's Kennedy Assassination Home Page.

Why were no tape recordings made of Oswald's interrogations? First of all, the Dallas Police Department did not have a tape recorder. Second, as Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander observes, such tapes "would have been inadmissable in any court."(28) DPD Homicide Detective Jim Leavelle concurs: "what's the use of keeping a thousand words of conversation you're never going to be able to use?"(29) A stenographer would also have been of little use; as longtime researcher Gus Russo observes, Oswald did little more than nod his head for the bulk of the interrogations.(30)

Last, and most certainly least, JFK's screenplay states that Lee Harvey Oswald (portrayed in the film by Gary Oldman) "turns to an unseen Deputy, sad," and says, "Now everyone will know who I am."(31)

But it is unlikely Oswald ever said this. This claim was made by Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig, and none of the numerous other individuals present at Oswald's interrogations heard any such statement; Captain Will Fritz denied that Craig was ever present at any of the interrogations, as Craig claimed.

At the time of Roger Craig's Warren Commission deposition, there was scant reason to question his reliability, but he later developed into one of the most notorious confabulators connected to the case. Among other things, he fed Jim Garrison a tremendous amount of false information, and fabricated testimony against one of Garrison's minor suspects. At one point he contacted the suspect and offered to recant his testimony for money. One of the most respected JFK assassination researchers of all, the late Mary Ferrell, knew Craig very well for years, and described him as "a very sick young man. He had made a name for himself as a very promising young law enforcement officer. When he came forward with some of the 'stories' he told following the events of that November weekend, he believed that he would be offered a great deal of money . . . I have made enemies because I have continued to say that I have never really believed him."(32) Roger Craig's own daughter has called him "disturbed"(33) and "unstable,"(34) and castigates conspiracy theorists for perpetuating the stories he told.(35) Craig committed suicide in 1975, a broken man.(36)

Unsurprisingly, Craig is a source frequently cited by Oliver Stone. Stone, as we have seen, is not one to overly burden himself with credible evidence and solid facts, no matter how abundantly documented they may be. How else could he seriously try to portray Lee Harvey Oswald as the true victim of November 22, 1963?



Copyright © 2001, 2012 by David Reitzes


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1. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), pp. 174-75. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

2. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, p. 6.

3. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, p. 40.

4. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, pp. 40-41.

5. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, p. 41.

6. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 317.

7. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 317.

8. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 317.

9. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 317.

10. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 317. Dialogue reconstructed. (Hudkins: "He said something to the effect that he hadn't done anything that he was ashamed of.")

11. Warren Commission Report, pp. 200, 600-02, 612-13.

12. Warren Commission Report, pp. 200, 602.

13. Warren Commission Report, pp. 200-01.

14. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 175. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

15. Warren Commission Report, p. 200.

16. Warren Commission Report, p. 602.

17. Warren Commission Report, p. 606.

18. Warren Commission Report, p. 200.

19. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, p. 130.

20. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, p. 135.

21. Warren Commission Exhibit No. 2073, Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. XXIV, pp. 505-06, cited in Joel Grant and John Locke, "Oswald, in His Own Defense." Warren Commission Report, pp. 200-01.

22. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. I, p. 149.

23. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. III, p. 85.

24. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. III, p. 88.

25. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. I, p. 153.

26. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. VII, pp. 328-29.

27. Warren Commission Report, p. 201.

28. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 331.

29. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 332.

30. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 331.

31. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 175. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

32. Mary Ferrell, Internet message to Bill Ambrosino, Prodigy Bulletin Board, August 24 (year unknown), reposted to alt.assassination.jfk by John McAdams, January 23, 2004.

33. Michelle Palmer (nee Deanna Craig), e-mail to John Simkin, posted to Education Forum on June 13, 2008. The original post has been deleted by Simkin, the forum administrator, apparently at Palmer's demand, but, as of this writing, is still visible in a response posted by Roger Craig's nephew, Jerry Craig. This is the full text that Simkin posted:


John Simkin, on Jun 13 2008, 05:26 PM, said:
Email from Roger Craig's daughter:


There are a few items in your article about Roger Craig you just might want to correct for the sake of accuracy and truth in reporting. i) His marriage didn't end due to repeated harassment or threats - unless you count his repeated threats to end his own life. ii) The man was disturbed. As his daughter I would place money on the fact that he suffered from either Borderline Personality Disorder or Bi-polar depression. Those last two attempts on his life? The husband of the woman he was fooling around with. Trust me, I met her AND her daughters before the bastard killed himself. The husband met him at the door with that shoulder shot.

Articles like yours only serve to continue the myth. My father was a disturbed man. I'm not disputing that what he thought he saw was something different than what was reported. But let's face it, my dad didn't know a Mauser from a whatever. He was a Wisconsin farmboy who joined the army illegally, and was released from duty because he kept injuring himself - I note you don't mention all the self-inflicted scars from his tour of duty. Furthermore, it is EXACTLY this kind of dramatic license that killed my father. It fed his disease. It fed his paranoia. And in the end, it contributed to his self-destruction. You should be ashamed of yourself for perpetuating this garbage.


34. Michelle Palmer (nee Deanna Craig), Internet posting in response to "Book review – JFK and the Unspeakable," by Adrian Mack, July 5, 2009.

Mack had written:


Book review – JFK and the Unspeakable

- by Adrian Mack

James Douglass’ book JFK and the Unspeakable is subtitled “Why He Died, and Why It Matters”.


Dallas County Deputy sheriff Roger Craig has long been one of the most credible, and certainly most tragic witnesses in this area. Shortly after the shooting, in Dealey Plaza, Craig saw either Oswald or his double climb into a green Rambler station wagon driven by a “husky looking Latin.” Craig then encountered Oswald during his interrogation at the Dallas Police HQ, where Douglass writes, “It was too late – for both the government and Roger Craig. Deputy Sheriff Craig had seen and heard too much.”

As an insider, Craig bore witness to a number of things that cause the official story to unravel, and he talked. His career was destroyed by his refusal to recant his own testimony. After a number of attempts on his life, one of which left him disabled, Craig reportedly committed suicide in 1975.


Palmer responded:


Bullshit. You are ALL so full of it. Roger Craig was unstable from childhood. His suicide had more to do with his own mental illness (and being sucked into the GD conspiracy crap) than anything to do with JFK’s actual death.

I am his child. I knew him. I knew the people who used him to promote their theories. You are ALL full of it.


35. See endnote #34.

36. Penn Jones, Jr., described by colleague Harrison E. Livingstone as "one of the first critics of the Warren Report (who 'started it all')," was responsible for developing and popularizing the theory that eyewitnesses and other persons connected to the JFK assassination were dying under mysterious circumstances. Jones was a close friend of Roger Craig; he wrote, "On May 15, 1975, Roger D. Craig died in Dallas. The treatment Craig received after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, we think, caused his death. Reluctantly, we do admit that Craig pulled the trigger to end his life . . ." (Robert J. Groden and Harrison Edward Livingstone, High Treason [New York: Berkley Books, 1990], p. 132.)



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