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Hey Oswald, Take the Car Keys

The Editor’s Blog

By Todd Robins /

Leave aside, for now, what went down with Jack Ruby. Oswald’s lack of a getaway plan has always confounded me.

Let’s say Lee old buddy old pal acted alone, thought it up all by himself, never ran it by a soul, just as Posner and Co. insist he did. Go ahead. Install him in the sniper’s nest with the mail order rifle he brought to work that day. Capable of planning and carrying out the deed.

Yet, he forgot about the heat, right after.

You’d think he would have anticipated that the friendly neighborhood authorities might stop by the Texas Book Depository soon after the shots rang out. Or that a constable or two might comb the area in search of the perpetrator. Inasmuch as the president of the United States just got zotzed in broad daylight.

But never mind all that. Oswald moseyed out of the Book Depository, heading east on Elm Street for seven blocks or so, presumably past some preschooler’s lemonade stand. He boarded a bus after his walk, which drove back from whence he came, then turned right in front of Dealey Plaza, there, on the way to Oak Cliff. Two blocks later, Oswald said, “Enough.” Too much traffic, too many cops, perhaps. Down from the bus he went, and walked, again, to the Greyhound Station, which a Dallas native friend of mine told me is not a mere stretch of the legs if the station was on South Laramar, as surmised. Whereupon—and why not if he improvised his getaway after taking out Kennedy? —he caught a taxi.

The taxi ran up to the Houston Street Viaduct, which crosses the Trinity River and goes into Oak Cliff. He had enough coins in his pocket to satisfy the cab driver, then got out near his rooming house, where he grabbed his pistol. 

From there he walked to the intersection near Adamson High School for cake and ice cream with Tippit. 

Here’s the thing. The late, great George V. Higgins didn’t come out with his first three novels until the early seventies. This was 1963—Oswald could not possibly have known he needed a getaway car!

Digger Doherty would set him straight. Not to mention Jackie Cogan.

A professional hit man, Cogan uses a driver. When he and his driver, Frankie, arrive at the moment of truth with the target, Cogan, in the passenger seat, reaches down to the floor and picks up his shotgun. Then he takes the key out of the ignition.

“Hey,” Frankie says, “I mean, I was gonna start it and everything, we could get a start.”

“I know,” Cogan says, “but, it’s probably gonna get noisy around here, and I known guys, heard a lot of noise, they got too good a start and left somebody standing around with his thumb up his ass.”

But Cogan would have shot from the fence behind the grassy knoll—the better to get the bejesus out of there.

Paranoia on the Path to Paranoia

I could try to blame it all on Delillo since I am halfway home on Libra. About the fateful day in Dallas, though, I am paranoid quite on my own.

Delillo imagines it like this. A semi-retired agency hand, still bitter about the Bay of Pigs but as much as anything on a quest to remove Castro, games it out that a false flag op on Kennedy will stir the necessary fervor to invade the island. That’s right—the agency hand dreams up a miss on JFK right out there in the sunshine. And of course, our agent knows he needs a (wait for it!) patsy.

For my money, Delillo is definitely The One, the writer god chose to tell this tale. The tone he conjures, the play of voices when the plotters engage with one another or with their spouses, provides an extra payload of literary pleasure.

Delillo’s vision ended up mirroring information that came out later, in the nineties. It was revealed that the early sixties Pentagon, in conjunction with the agency, put together a little shindig called Operation Northwoods. This was a false flag op to, well… bring about the desired invasion, though of course it didn’t call for shooting in the general vicinity of the president. Kennedy, in any event, didn’t need too many puffs on his panatela to turn it down. He called the proposal, “Deranged.”

A tidbit. Delillo writes that the agency opened a 201 file on Oswald when he defected. True enough, though the journalist Jefferson Morley (The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton) has pointed out it took the agency a year to open the 201. Prior to that, for a year or so after Oswald defected, Angleton opened an “office of security” file, which meant anyone interested in Oswald would need to come directly to Angleton for information. It has therefore been posited that this strategy was part of Angleton’s infamous mole hunt in the aftermath of the Kim Philby debacle: the mole would be revealed upon looking into Lee.

Again, the info about Angleton’s “office of security” file came out after Delillo published Libra.

I love his novel, though. His instincts are golden.

Oswald in Mexico City Is the Twelfth House of Secrets

Halfway home on Libra—and I will circle back sometime after I finish reading the book—I’m curious how Delillo will deal with Mexico City. This amounts to another timeline question since information about Oswald’s late September of ’63 visit to Mexico City came out after Delillo wrote the novel.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations’ (HSCA) Thirteenth Appendix, entitled, “Oswald, the CIA, and Mexico City,” for instance, known as “The Lopez Report” since it was written by Ed Lopez and Dan Hardway, wasn’t released to the public until after the U.S. Congress passed the “JFK Records Act” in 1993. It grapples with Oswald’s time south of the border in a reserved, journalistic style.

When reading the report, it’s hard not to question if Oswald was impersonated, or if he went to Mexico City at all. He reportedly went down there to obtain a visa to go to Cuba with the ultimate aim of returning to the USSR, even though he’d only just packed his toothbrush, chinos and sleeping bag for the sojourn back to America in June of 1962. This was a guy who had a devil of a time deciding which country he preferred for renting a room.

Lopez and Hardway, in any case, couldn’t prevail upon the agency to leave go of photos showing Oswald entering the Cuban and Soviet Consulates, even though it’s not in dispute that the agency had cameras trained on both buildings. The report details how a man claiming to be Oswald called the Soviet Consulate and spoke in broken Russian, which doesn’t align with the consensus that Oswald spoke pretty decent Russian by that time.

Meanwhile, Oswald reportedly hung out with pro-Castro students during his stay, but when Lopez and Hardway figured out the names of some of the students and wanted to interview them for the HSCA’s investigation, the agency found it in the goodness of their hearts to hide the students from Lopez upon his arrival in Mexico City for just such a purpose.

Why would someone impersonate Oswald during this trip to Mexico City? What’s known is that the agency effectively shut the investigation down when Lopez and Hardway pressed for details about tracking numbers on pouches (which possibly contained footage of the consulates), and when the investigators asked about activities of the anti-Castro group known as the DRE, which the agency in large part funded.

The agency brought George Joannides out of retirement to act as liaison between the agency and the HSCA. Unbeknownst to Lopez and Hardway during the investigation, it was none other than Joannides who ran the DRE during the assassination period.

After the assassination, The DRE was first to notify the press of their locally famous dust-up with Oswald in New Orleans in August of 1963, as well as “the details of” Oswald’s trip to Mexico City. 

I was in college around the time Delillo published Libra, but it’s just too fuzzy, what a writer might have known about these matters in that era. Soon enough, though, I’ll find out how Delillo dealt with Oswald’s mysterious trip.

Todd Robins (@ToddRobins2) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vautrin.

*Dialogue excerpts from Cogan’s Trade, by George V. Higgins.

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