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Destruction of the Oswald Note

FBI agent James Hosty, who admitted destroying a note Lee Harvey Oswald had dropped off at the Dallas FBI office days prior to the JFK assassination.
FBI agent James Hosty, who admitted destroying a note Lee Harvey Oswald had dropped off at the Dallas FBI office days prior to the JFK assassination.

In 1975, the allegation surfaced that the FBI had destroyed a note delivered to it by Lee Harvey Oswald, just one or two weeks prior to the assassination of President Kennedy. An internal FBI investigation failed to find any records relating to this, but interviews of Dallas Field Office personnel established that an Oswald visit and note dropoff had occurred.

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from several relevant witnesses, as did the contemporaneous Church Committee. The results of this were:

  • Oswald definitely did visit the Dallas Field Office a week to two weeks prior to the assassination, looking for Agent Hosty, who had recently visited his wife Marina.
  • When told that Hosty was not in, Oswald left a note in an envelope which was unsealed.
  • The note contained some sort of threat, but accounts varied widely as to whether Oswald threatened to "blow up the FBI" or merely "report this to higher authorities."
  • Within hours after Oswald's murder on 24 Nov 1963, Hosty destroyed the note and a memorandum which Special-Agent-in-Charge Gordon Shanklin had ordered written on November 22.

Hosty maintained that Shanklin, head of the Dallas Field Office, had ordered him to destroy the note. Shanklin denied ever having heard of the note until 1975, though Assistant Director William Sullivan did recall the incident. The House Select Committee on Assassinations reviewed the incident and did not find Shanklin's denial credible.

The movie JFK added a new twist based on rumors which have never been substantiated. In the film, New Orleans DA Jim Garrison wonders why the FBI would destroy a note which would tend to confirm Oswald's violent character, and presents his staff with an alternative: "This is just speculation, people, but what if the note was describing the assassination attempt on JFK?"



Oswald and the FBI, Part One, by William Weston. See also Part Two.

The Oswald Note: Information or Disinformation, by Peter Whitmey.

Agent 179: The Making of a Dirty Rumor, by Jerry Rose.

Primary Sources: Theory - FBI, Secret Service, by Spartacus Educational.

FBI vs. ARRB: Heading into Overtime, by Probe.

Assignment Oswald: A Review, by Ken Thompson.

Other Links

The JFK 100: Oswald's note to FBI Agent Hosty. Dave Reitzes critiques the film JFK's handling of the Oswald note story.



Schweiker-Hart Report, Appendix B: The FBI and the Destruction of the Oswald Note. Don Edwards' Judiciary Committee held hearings on the note's destruction; the Church Committee subsequently wrote a summary in this report.

Testimony of Nanny Lee Fenner and Gordon Shanklin. This 11 Dec 1975 testimony was given to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Testimony of James Hosty and Kenneth Howe. This 12 Dec 1975 testimony was given to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Summary of interview with James P. Hosty, Jr.. This interview with Hosty was conducted a week prior to the testimony above.

Preliminary Report of Investigation into the Assassination of President Kennedy, p. 112. This internal Church Committee report discusses the Oswald note destruction.

Testimony of James Hosty. Hosty testified to the Church Committee first on 5 Dec 1975. See also his further appearances on 12 Dec 1975 and 13 Dec 1075.

Testimony of Gordon Shanklin. This Church Committee interview is dated 19 Dec 1975.

Letter from Richard Case Nagell to Don Edwards.

HSCA Final Report, 1.C.5(b)(6): the destruction of Oswald's note.

Related Starting Points

Books of Interest

    Assignment: Oswald
James P. Hosty Jr.
Arcade Publishing, 1996
    Breach of Trust
Gerald D. McKnight
University Press of Kansas, 2005
    Coincidence or Conspiracy?
Committee to Investigate Assassinations
Kensington Publishing Corp., 1977
    Accessories After the Fact
Sylvia Meagher
Skyhorse Publishing, 2013
    Marina and Lee
Priscilla Johnson McMillan
Harper & Row, 1977
    The Assassination Tapes
George O' Toole
Zebra Books, 1975

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