President John F. Kennedy speaks about Latin American policy during a campaign stop in Miami a week before he was assassinated in Dallas. Wolfsonian Archives
President John F. Kennedy speaks about Latin American policy during a campaign stop in Miami a week before he was assassinated in Dallas. Wolfsonian Archives

Morning Newsletter

Will the JFK files tell us more about Lee Oswald’s call to Raleigh?

By Camila Molina

cmolina@newsobserver.com

October 24, 2017 01:59 PM

UPDATED October 26, 2017 06:24 PM

The remaining classified records related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy are scheduled to become public this week, and they could include information about the “Raleigh call” made on behalf of Lee Harvey Oswald from the Dallas City Jail a day after the assassination.

Oswald was arrested shortly after Kennedy was killed in Dealey Plaza in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, and charged hours later with the murder. The next night, Oswald tried to make a call from the jail to a number with the area code 919, according to an internal report written by a member of the staff on the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s.

That committee was established in light of allegations that federal agencies did not fully cooperate with previous investigations, and eventually it concluded that there was a high probability that two gunmen fired at the president, according to the JFK Library.

Later, when Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, it required federal agencies to transfer all records related to the assassination to the National Archives, according to the Archives website. Those documents became the JFK Assassination Records Collection.

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All records previously withheld in part or in full must be released “no later than the date that is 25 years after the enactment of this Act” unless the president orders that they be withheld, according to the law. That deadline is Thursday.

Trump tweeted Saturday that he will allow the release.

Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017

So, unless Trump changes his mind, about 50,000 documents never seen by the public and information from about half a million redacted records will be released, according to the Archives website. There are about 5 million records in the collection.

And among those records may be more information about that phone call Oswald allegedly tried to make on Nov. 23, 1963, the night before he was murdered in the jail basement by Jack Ruby.

The Raleigh call

The President’s Commission on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, commonly known as the Warren Commission, in 1964 published an 888-page report that concluded Oswald, alone, had killed JFK.

In August 1977, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, created to do a new investigation, received information that Oswald allegedly tried to place a call from jail to a man named John Hurt in Raleigh, according to an internal report written by Surell Brady, a senior staff counsel to the committee.

According to Brady’s report, Alveeta Treon showed up at Dallas City Hall at 10:15 p.m. on Nov. 23, 1963, to work her shift as a switchboard operator. Her shift was from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., but she showed up early that night. Louise Swinney, another switchboard employee, was still at work when Treon arrived, the report said.

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According to Treon, Swinney told her that two law enforcement officials were going to be present to listen to a call Oswald was going to make from jail later that evening. About 10 or 15 minutes after Treon reported to work, two men indeed arrived and showed their credentials to Swinney, Treon said.

“A few minutes later a red light appeared on the switchboard, indicating that a call was being made from the jail,” Brady wrote in the report. “Mrs. Swinney handled the call.”

Treon remained “plugged in” while Swinney handled the call, meaning she could hear the call.

Treon said she heard Oswald state the numbers he wanted to call and the name “John Hurt,” according to the report, and she wrote down the information on a telephone call slip used by the operators.

Treon said she saw Swinney write down the information on a notepad and heard Swinney repeat a phone number to Oswald.

“As Mrs. Treon watched, Mrs. Swinney did not place the call for Oswald,” Brady wrote. “Instead [Swinney] opened the key on Oswald’s line and told him, ‘I am sorry the number doesn’t answer.’”

Swinney then disconnected Oswald’s line, Treon recalled. The two men came out of the equipment room, thanked the women for their cooperation and left, Treon said in Brady’s report.

Treon said that she signed Swinney’s name to the slip since Swinney handled the call, and that she kept the slip as a souvenir at the request of her daughter Sharon Kovac, who also worked at City Hall and was present during the call.

This is a digitally remastered version of the call slip that Alveeta Treon wrote on Nov. 23, 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly attempted to call John Hurt, a military veteran who lived in Raleigh.
Grover Proctor

On the slip, Treon wrote that the person calling was Lee Harvey Oswald, on Nov. 23, 1963, and the call was being placed to John Hurt in Raleigh, N.C., at 919-834-7430 or 833-1253. She also wrote “CA” and “DA” on the slip to indicate “canceled” and “didn’t answer” because the call was never completed, the report said.

Swinney also gave an account of the incident. According to Swinney’s interview in Brady’s report, the Dallas Police Department told her it would send two men into the telephone room to “tap in on the line” if Oswald tried to make any calls. About 10 p.m. that night, two Dallas police homicide detectives came into the room and identified themselves to her.

Oswald tried to make two calls, Swinney said, one to a “Lawyer Abt” in New York. She couldn’t remember to whom the other call was to be placed.

“Mrs. Swinney stated she wrote the two numbers on a piece of blue paper which she believes she may still have at home,” Brady wrote. “She did not place either call for Oswald. The detectives left after they got the numbers from her. She said the name John Hurt was not familiar to her.”

Brady’s report says the committee determined that Oswald did try to place a call from jail and that law enforcement officials came into the switchboard room, based on the interviews of all three women present in the switchboard room. The committee was unable to identify the men or the agency they worked for.

The committee also interviewed John David Hurt at 201 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh in 1978, Brady wrote.

“He acknowledged that the number 834-7430 was his number in Raleigh at the time of the assassination and is still listed to him,” Brady wrote.

The committee also learned that Hurt served in the military between 1942 and 1946, and that he served in Army counterintelligence in Europe and Japan and sought psychiatric treatment at Duke University Hospital, but was refused admittance.

The committee was never able to confirm that Oswald did try to call John Hurt or that he was acquainted with a man named John Hurt, Brady concluded in the report.

“However, the allegation is disturbing because the Committee has found no evidence that Mrs. Treon had any motive to invent the story, especially with such precise details as the actual phone number listed to John Hurt,” the report said.

None of this information made it to the final report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, said Grover B. Proctor Jr., who has researched Kennedy’s assassination for more than 40 years.

Proctor, a former professor at Walden University and associate dean of Northwood University, is widely recognized for his research on the Raleigh call by JFK researchers.

It’s because of Proctor’s research on Oswald’s alleged attempt to reach a former counterintelligence agent in Raleigh that the incident has become known as the “Raleigh call,” Indyweek reported in 2012.

A copy of Brady’s report on the Raleigh call was given to Proctor by Robert Blakey, the chief counsel and staff director of the House committee, Proctor said. Proctor transcribed the report, which he published on his website.

In 2011, Proctor donated all his physical documents related to the assassination to Baylor University, including Brady’s internal report.

‘There will be no smoking gun’

Judge John Tunheim, chairman of the independent agency that disclosed assassination records in the 1990s and decided how long others could remain secret, told the Associated Press that the trove probably will not contain any big revelations.

The declassifying of documents will not answer all the questions in one fell swoop, Proctor wrote on his blog in response to Trump’s tweet on Saturday.

“There will be no smoking gun,” Proctor wrote on his blog.

What about the Raleigh call?

If the release of documents on Thursday include any records from the Defense Intelligence Agency, that’s where new information about the Raleigh call may lie, Proctor said.

“There might be a hidden document somewhere in there where they responded to a request about Mr. Hurt’s World War II efforts as a counterintelligence agent for the U.S. Army,” Proctor said this week in an interview.

“I think that this week’s revelations are probably not going to have anything to do with the Raleigh call specifically, but you can bet that I will be in there looking at all the headers for every single one of the documents trying to find out if there’s one little gem hidden in there,” he said.

If Proctor could resolve one of the ambiguities of the events related to the Raleigh call, it would be the direct or indirect connection between Oswald and Hurt that the internal report was unable to prove.

Camila Molina: 919-829-4538, @Cmolina__