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JFK and Oswald in ND

9/24/2004:

Tomorrow is the 41st anniversary of President John Kennedy receiving an honorary degree from UND in Grand Forks. He was on a 5-day Soil Conservation Tour at the time.

In Dick Russell’s book, The Man Who Knew Too Much, there are references to Richard Case Nagell, a war vet who later admitted being a double agent. In 1963, Nagell penetrated a New Orleans cell of Cuban exiles that wanted to assassinate Kennedy; their plan was to make it look like Castro was to blame. Nagell said he told the KGB about the plot, and they ordered him to warn Lee Harvey Oswald. Nagell also said he told the FBI and CIA about the plan, which was to unfold late in September while Kennedy was on the Conservation Tour. Then, five days before Kennedy was in Grand Forks, Nagell walked into an El Paso bank, fired two shots at the ceiling and waited to be arrested. His reason was that he wanted to isolate himself from the murder.

Some credit Nagell with subverting the September assassination attempt. Whether Kennedy would have been shot in Grand Forks, is highly debatable – there were 14 cities on the tour, and the crime could have been carried out in any of them. But Nagell’s claims piqued the interest of many researchers, including Gary Severson and UND professor John Delane Williams.

While studying the various assassination theories, Severson and Williams discovered three interesting links between North Dakota and Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The first was a newspaper story released on November 23rd, 1963, the day after Kennedy was shot. It had actually been written four years earlier, when UPI reporter Aline Mosby interviewed Oswald about his reasons for defecting to the Soviet Union.

“I am a Marxist,” Oswald told her. “I became interested about the age of 15. An old lady handed me a pamphlet about saving the Rosenbergs. I still remember that pamphlet... I don’t know why. Then we moved to North Dakota,” Oswald said, “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 the first time.” When Mosby’s story was presented to the Warren Commission, the words “North Dakota” had been changed to “New Orleans.” There’s no clear explanation for this.

There were – and are – some who believe Oswald may have spent the summer of either 1955 or ‘56 in Stanley, in northwest ND. About two and a half weeks after Kennedy died, a letter from Alma Cole reached President Lyndon Johnson’s desk. In it, Cole said that while living in Stanley in the mid-‘50s, a teenager named Harvey Oswald spent time with her son and that the boy bragged that someday he was going to kill a president. Mrs. Cole provided names of more than ten other people from Stanley who might remember Oswald. Ten days later, the FBI began to interview them. Most had no recollection of the boy – during those years, many people moved in and out because of the oil fields. Mrs. Cole’s son, however, remembered him as Harv or Harvey Oswald, and his description matched the age and traits of the real Oswald as a teenager.

While Severson and Willams were doing research in Stanley in the late 1990s, Lyle Aho, a tailor, recalled an “older boy” he got to know during the same time period. The boy called himself Lee, and he asked Aho and a friend to train with him, so they could go to Cuba and make money. When Aho’s friend was later contacted about this, he said he remembered a teenager named Lee and also remembered the talk about Cuba and that Lee was a fast talker. Whether Lee Harvey Oswald was ever in North Dakota can’t be proven, of course, but it makes for good conversation.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm