In 1915 the government of Nicholas II dispatched another uncle, Ferdinand von Mohrenschildt to Washington to plead for American intervention in the First World War. He stayed in the country and eventually married the step-granddaughter of President Woodrow Wilson.
After the Russian Revolution his father, Sergius Alexander von Mohrenschildt, was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. In 1921 he was sent to Siberia but managed to escape with his family to Poland. His wife died soon afterwards from typhoid fever.
While a young man George de Mohrenschildt left Poland and spent time travelling around Europe. He later claimed that he was involved in a pro-Nazi plot to kill Joseph Stalin. De Mohrenschildt reached the United States in 1938. The British intelligence services warned the American government that they suspected that De Monrenschildt was working for German intelligence.
De Mohrenschildt went to live with his older brother, Dimitri de Mohrenschildt and new sister-in-law (Betty Hooker). He found employment with the Shumaker company in New York and worked under Pierre Fraiss who was connected with French intelligence. De Mohrenschildt agreed to collect information on people involved in "pro-German activity". In 1939 he went to work for Humble Oil, a company that was co-founded by Prescott Bush.
During this period de Mohrenschildt met George H. W. Bush. According to Bush: "I first met him in the early 40s. He was an uncle to my Andover roommate (Edward Hooker)." He also met Jacqueline Bouvier, who called him "Uncle George" and would sit on his knee.
In 1941 de Mohrenschildt went to work for his cousin, Baron Maydell, and his company, Film Facts, in New York City. Maydell was also known to have pro-Nazi sympathies. During this period he made a documentary about the resistance movement in Poland. Later that year he failed in his attempt to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
After the Second World War de Mohrenschildt moved to Venezuela where he worked for Pantepec Oil, a company owned by the family of William F. Buckley. In 1950 he launched an oil investment firm with Edward Hooker with offices in New York City, Denver and Abilene. In 1952 De Mohrenschildt moved to Dallas where he worked for the oil millionaire, Clint Murchison. He joined the Dallas Petroleum Club and became a regular at Council on World Affairs meetings, a right-wing organization established by Neil Mallon.
De Mohrenschildt also joined the Texas Crusade for Freedom. Other members included Earle Cabell, Everette DeGolyer, Harold Byrd, Ted Dealey, Paul Raigorodsky, George Bouhe, Neil Mallon and Lewis MacNaughton.
In 1955 George De Mohrenschildt met Jeanne LeGon. The couple began a relationship. When Robert LeGon discovered what was going on, he wrote a letter to the FBI accussing her of being a "communist spy". This resulted in the FBI making inquiries about her political activities. According to Priscilla Johnson McMillan: "After Jeanne started seeing George de Monhrenschildt, Robert LeGon came twice to Dallas. He is said to have gone after his wife's admirer with a revolver, then hired a private detective. But, like so many others before him, he succumbed to the De Mohrenschildt charm. He declared that he would grant his wife a divorce on one condition - that De Mohrenschildt promise to marry her."
In 1957 George de Mohrenschildt met J. Walton Moore, the local CIA man in Dallas. According to Russ Baker, the two men had several meetings over the next few years. During this period he worked for a company called Cuban-Venezuelan Oil Voting Trust Company (CVOVT) that had been established by William Buckley Sr. During this period he got to know Jack Alston Crichton, who was one of several oil men who began negotiating with Fulgencio Batista, the military dictator of Cuba. Crichton later remarked that "I liked George. He was a nice guy."
George de Mohrenschildt married Jeanne LeGon in June 1959. The following year, George's only son died of Cystic Fibrosis. George wrote in his autobiography: "I asked my wife Jeanne to give up her successful designing profession and join me on an expedition on foot by the trails of Mexico and all of Central America." After the couple used all their savings in the trip to Mexico and Central America they returned to Dallas. George began writing a book about his experiences and Jeanne found a job in the millinery department of the Sanger-Harris department store.
According to Gregory Burnham George de Mohrenschildt was an "active member of 2 CIA Proprietary Organizations: The Dallas Council On World Affairs and The Crusade For A Free Europe." Other members included Abraham Zapruder, Clint Murchison, David Byrd, George H. W. Bush, Neil Mallon and Haroldson L. Hunt.
In 1961 George de Mohrenschildt was invited to lunch by J. Walton Moore. According to Edward Jay Epstein, during the meeting Moore told de Mohrenschildt about Lee Harvey Oswald living in Minsk. However, in his book on the case, I'm a Patsy (1977), he gives a different version of events: "Early in the summer of 1962 the rumors spread out among the Russian-speaking people of Dallas and Fort Worth of an unusual couple-the Oswalds. He was supposedly an ex-marine, an unfriendly and eccentric character, who had gone to Russia and brought back with him a Russian wife. He had lived in Minsk where I had spent my early childhood. And so I was curious to meet the couple and to find out what had happened to Minsk. Someone gave me Lee's address and one afternoon a friend of mine, Colonel Lawrence Orloff and I drove to Fort Worth, about 30 miles from Dallas."
Over the next few months George de Mohrenschildt took Oswald to anti-Castro meetings in Dallas. De Mohrenschildt later told Edward Jay Epstein that he was asked by J. Walton Moore to find out about Oswald's time in the Soviet Union. In return he was given help with an oil deal he was negotiating with Papa Doc Duvalier, the Haitian dictator. In March 1963, De Mohrenschildt got the contract from the Haitian government. He had assumed that this was because of the help he had given to the CIA.
In February, 1963 George de Mohrenschildt introduced Marina Oswald and Lee Harvey Oswald to Ruth Paine. On 24th April, 1963, Marina and her daughter went to live with Paine. Oswald rented a room in Dallas but stored some of his possessions in Ruth Paines garage. Ruth also helped Oswald to get a job at the Texas School Book Depository.
In June 1963 George de Mohrenschildt and his wife moved to Haiti. He later recalled what he did after Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination of John F. Kennedy: "But since the official version had it that Lee Harvey Oswald was the main suspect, we made our deposition at the Embassy. We did know him and we were aware of the fact he owned a rifle. We would be happy to testify what we knew about him and about our relationship with him and his wife. But we did not believe he was the assassin."
George de Mohrenschildt was recalled to America to testify before the Warren Commission. He was asked about the claim of Marina Oswald that he knew about Oswald's attempt to kill General Edwin Walker. After giving evidence he returned to Haiti.
On 5th September 1976 De Mohrenschildt sent a message to George H. W. Bush, who was at that time director of the CIA: "Maybe you will be able to bring a solution to the hopeless situation I find myself in. My wife and I find ourselves surrounded by some vigilantes; our phone bugged; and we are being followed everywhere. Either FBI is involved in this or they do not want to accept my complaints. We are driven to insanity by the situation. I have been behaving like a damn fool ever since my daughter Nadya died from (cystic fibrosis) over three years ago. I tried to write, stupidly and unsuccessfully, about Lee H Oswald and must have angered a lot of people I do not know. But to punish an elderly man like myself and my highly nervous and sick wife is really too much. Could you do something to remove the net around us? This will be my last request for help and I will not annoy you any more."
Two months later George de Mohrenschildt was committed to a mental institution. According to his wife, Jeanne de Mohrenschildt, he was suffering from depression. He was taken to Parkland Hospital and underwent electroshock therapy.
In February 1977, Willem Oltmans, met George de Mohrenschildt at the library of Bishop College in Dallas, where he taught French. Oltmans later told the House Select Committee on Assassinations: "I couldn't believe my eyes. The man had changed drastically... he was nervous, trembling. It was a scared, a very, very scared person I saw. I was absolutely shocked, because I knew de Mohrenschildt as a man who wins tennis matches, who is always suntanned, who jogs every morning, who is as healthy as a bull."
According to Willem Oltmans, he confessed to being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. "I am responsible. I feel responsible for the behaviour of Lee Harvey Oswald... because I guided him. I instructed him to set it up." Oltmans claimed that de Mohrenschildt had admitted serving as a middleman between Lee Harvey Oswald and H. L. Hunt in an assassination plot involving other Texas oilmen, anti-Castro Cubans, and elements of the FBI and CIA.
Oltmans told the HSCA: "He begged me to take him out of the country because they are after me." On 13th February 1977, Oltmans took de Mohrenschildt to his home in Amsterdam where they worked on his memoirs. Over the next few weeks de Mohrenschildt claimed he knew Jack Ruby and argued that Texas oilmen joined with intelligence operatives to arrange the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Willem Oltmans arranged for George de Mohrenschildt to meet a Dutch publisher and the head of Dutch national television. The two men then travelled to Brussels. When they arrived, Oltmans mentioned that an old friend of his, a Soviet diplomat, would be joining them a bit later for lunch. De Mohrenschildt said he wanted to take a short walk before lunch. Instead, he fled to a friend's house and after a few days he flew back to the United States. He later accused Oltmans of betraying him. Russ Baker suggests in his book Family of Secrets: "Perhaps, and this would be strictly conjecture, de Mohrenschildt saw what it meant that he, like Oswald, was being placed in the company of Soviets. He was being made out to be a Soviet agent himself. And once that happened, his ultimate fate was clear."
The House Select Committee on Assassinations were informed of George de Mohrenschildt's return to the United States and sent its investigator, Gaeton Fonzi, to find him. Fonzi discovered he was living with his daughter in Palm Beach. However, Fonzi was not the only person looking for de Mohrenschildt. On 15th March 1977 he had a meeting with Edward Jay Epstein that had been arranged by the Reader's Digest magazine. Epstein offered him $4,000 for a four-day interview.
On 27th March, 1977, George de Mohrenschildt arrived at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach and spent the day being interviewed by Epstein. According to Epstein, they spent the day talking about his life and career up until the late 1950s.
Two days later Edward Jay Epstein asked him about Lee Harvey Oswald. As he wrote in his diary: "Then, this morning, I asked him about why he, a socialite in Dallas, sought out Oswald, a defector. His explanation, if believed, put the assassination in a new and unnerving context. He said that although he had never been a paid employee of the CIA, he had "on occasion done favors" for CIA connected officials. In turn, they had helped in his business contacts overseas. By way of example, he pointed to the contract for a survey of the Yugoslavian coast awarded to him in 1957. He assumed his "CIA connections" had arranged it for him and he provided them with reports on the Yugoslav officials in whom they had expressed interest."
Epstein and de Mohrenschildt, broke for lunch and decided to meet again at 3 p.m. George De Mohrenschildt returned to his room where he found a card from Gaeton Fonzi, an investigator working for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. George De Mohrenschildt's body was found later that day. He had apparently committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth.
On 11th May, 1978, Jeanne de Mohrenschildt gave an interview to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where she said that she did not accept that her husband had committed suicide. She also said that she believed Lee Harvey Oswald was an agent of the United States, possibly of the CIA, and that she was convinced he did not kill John F. Kennedy. She then went onto say: "They may get me too, but I'm not afraid... It's about time somebody looked into this thing."
Early in the summer of 1962 the rumors spread out among the Russian-speaking people of Dallas and Fort Worth of an unusual couple-the Oswalds. He was supposedly an ex-marine, an unfriendly and eccentric character, who had gone to Russia and brought back with him a Russian wife. He had lived in Minsk where I had spent my early childhood. And so I was curious to meet the couple and to find out what had happened to Minsk.
Someone gave me Lee's address and one afternoon a friend of mine, Colonel Lawrence Orloff and I drove to Fort Worth, about 30 miles from Dallas. We drove over the dreary, sewage-smelling miles separating the two cities. Texas does have lovely open spaces, but here they were degraded and polluted. After some searching, we found a shack on Mercedes Street in a semi-industrial, slummy area, near Montgomery Ward.
I knocked and a tawdry but clean young woman opened the door. I introduced myself and the colonel, giving as a reference the name of George Bouhe from whom I obtained the address. George was an elderly refugee, very friendly, the father superior of all the Russians in the Dallas Fort Worth Area. So this was Marina Oswald.
To Orlov she was beautiful not withstanding bad teeth and mousy blond hair.
I did not find her very attractive although she had a certain charm and she spoke beautiful, melodious Russian, so different from the language used by us who anglicized our language and bastardized it by foreign intonations and words.
Marina offered us some sherry and said that Lee would be over soon. We spoke a little fooling around; she had a pretty good sense of humour but the opinions she expressed seemed trite to me. And then entered Lee Harvey Oswald who was to become so famous or so infamous. He wore overalls and had clean workingman's shoes on. Only someone who had never met Lee could have called him insignificant. "There is something outstanding about this man," I told myself. One could detect immediately a very sincere and forward man. Although he was average-looking, with no outstanding features and of medium size, he showed in his conversation all the elements of concentration, thought and toughness. This man had the courage of his convictions and did not hesitate to discuss them. I was glad to meet such a person and was carried away back to the days of my youth in Europe, where as students, we discussed world affairs and our own ideas over many beers and without caring about time.
Lee was looking tenderly from time to time at Baby June. He loved her.
We shook hands and left. Driving back the colonel mused: "she is so charming and young!"
"But I found the ex-marine so much more interesting," I said. My friend, the retired air-force colonel resented Lee, his offhandedness, his ironic smiles and especially his ferocious spirit in independence. All his sympathy went to Marina, the poor Russian refugee.
We spoke English first and then, somehow, we switched to Russian. Lee spoke it very well, only with a slight accent. Marina did not say very much. "Doesn't your wife speak any English at all?" I asked Lee.
"No, and I don't want her to know English. I want her to continue speaking her own language. Russian is beautiful and I don't want to forget it." And he added with deep conviction. "Russian literature is marvelous and the people I met in the Soviet Union were so warm and nice to me. Yes, I made many friends there," he added thoughtfully.
"And how about the Soviet Government?" I asked anxiously.
"Well, that's another story. The trouble with me I always look for an ideal which probably does not exist."
"Maybe your friend does not understand Russian,: said Lee looking at Colonel Orloff. "Let's speak English then. You know, I was a marine and have respect for the brass," he smiled and added a few kind words to my friend.
And then it was time for us to go. "My wife speaks Russian also and she would like to spend some time with you Marina, and the baby of course," I said.
"I would like to but it will depend on Lee," she answered humbly.
"I am sure Lee will let you go and will come himself." A bond of friendship was already formed between the two of us.
Apart from his relatives, Oswald had no friends or close associates in Texas when he returned there in June of 1962, and he did not establish any close friendships or associations, although it appears that he came to respect George De Mohrenschildt. Somewhat of a nonconformist, De Mohrenschildt was a peripheral member of the so-called Russian community, with which Oswald made contact through Mr. Peter Gregory, a Russian-speaking petroleum engineer whom Oswald met as a result of his contact with the Texas Employment Commission office in Fort Worth...
While the exact sequence of events is not clear because of conflicting testimony, it appears that De Mohrenschildt and his wife actually went to Oswald's apartment early in November of 1962 and helped to move the personal effects of Marina Oswald and the baby. Even though it appears that they may have left Oswald a few days before, it seems that he resisted the move as best he could. He even threatened to tear up his wife's dresses and break all the baby things. According to De Mohrenschildt, Oswald submitted to the inevitable, presumably because he was "small, you know, and he was rather a puny individual." De Mohrenschildt said that the whole affair made him nervous since he was "interfering in other people's affairs, after all."
Mr. JENNER. Tell me about your present husband. What kind of a person is he?
Mrs. De MOHRENSCHILDT. Well, I tell you. He is a terrific person, absolutely terrific. He has a soul of gold. I really mean it. And sometimes he drives me so crazy, I can just smash his head, because he is so impatient. He is extremely impatient. He is always in a hurry. You have to be 10 times faster than he is in order to have everything quiet. That is about the only quality that I would not like - he is just always in a hurry. He is always rushing somewhere, and everything has to be just immediately. Never a second late.
Mr. JENNER. Is he an outspoken person?
Mrs. De MOHRENSCHILDT. Oh, yes; very, very, very outspoken person.
Mr. JENNER. Very handsome and an attractive man?
Mrs. De MOHRENSCHILDT. Well, I tell you. I like - inside - I think he is much better inside than outside. He is a good-looking man. And women find him fantastically attractive. I don't. I like his personality. I think he is wonderful. He feels - he is nice with people, he is nice with animals. I don't think he can ever hurt anybody or do deliberate harm. He can do a lot of harm by saying something without thinking, and actually hurt a person's feelings without realizing what he says may hurt them. He may do that. But he would never do anything deliberately to hurt anyone. So by speaking like that - for instance, he can make a joke about a person, really unintentional, and that joke might hurt a person.
Mr. JENNER. He is a little heavy in his humor?
Mrs. De MOHRENSCHILDT. Yes; sometimes it is uncalled for at all. And, later on, when I tell him, he agrees with me. But it was already said. And especially when you hurt little people, they get awfully hurt. And he has that habit of sort of teasing people, or ribbing people, which some people appreciate and some people don't. I personally don't appreciate teasing, and I don't appreciate - I don't think it is necessary. He thinks it is very funny. I don't think it is funny at all. That is the thing. Through that, I am sure he has a couple of people that don't like him very well. I don't think they hate him. The only one that is really not fond of him is his ex-wife, because of the children.
We greeted the Lebanese Ambassador and joined the crowd. George Morel, head of the Pan-American Airways in Haiti came up to us immediately. "Didn't you know your president was killed?" He asked in a strained voice.
At first we thought he was talking about the President of Haiti, Docteur Francois Duvalier who was my nominal boss in Haiti. Seeing our blank expression, Morel explained. "President Kennedy was assassinated today."
I hoped that it wouldn't happen in Texas, especially in Dallas. But Morel summarily explained the situation-and it was in Dallas.
Gloomily we filed out of the Lebanese Embassy, where people did not seem to be too badly concerned about President Kennedy's fate, got in the car and drove away. "If he had his tonton-macoutes around, this would not have happened," I said angrily and this was my first serious criticism of our services supposed to protect the President of the United States.
We drove gloomily to the American Embassy, located near the sea-shore and not too far from my office. The doors were wideopen and two marines stood there on both sides of a book where the American residents would sign their names as a gesture of reverence to the dead head of state. Having signed our names, we were the first to have done it, we drove to the house of an old friend of mine, Valentin (Teddy) Blaque, an attache at the Embassy.
Teddy's house was similar to ours, but more elaborate, with a large terrace overlooking the sparkling bay of Port-au-Prince. Several mutual friends stood around, looking at each other with stunned expression, and seemed to ask the same question: "Why him?"
"For the first time we had a president who was young and energetic. And he was trying to solve the problems of the world," said Jeanne sadly, holding back her tears. "And he had to go..."
The beautiful view seemed funeral to us as we stood there silently.
"And in Dallas," I mused aloud, why there? A conservative and somewhat provincial city, but successful and proud of its success. We knew the Mayor-a charming man-and many city fathers.
"But who did it?" I asked Teddy.
"I just listened to the radio and a suspect was arrested already," he said.
Before he mentioned the name, I thought of Lee and his rifle with the telescopic lens. "Could it be Lee? No, it was impossible."
And driving back home, in stunned silence, we thought of Lee and the predicament he was in.
But since the official version had it that Lee Harvey Oswald was the main suspect, we made our deposition at the Embassy. We did know him and we were aware of the fact he owned a rifle. We would be happy to testify what we knew about him and about our relationship with him and his wife. But we did not believe he was the assassin.
Then we learned that a letter was sent by someone influential in Washington to the official of the Haitian government to drop me from the payroll and to exile me as fast as possible. Fortunately I had good friends and the latter did not happen. And later, little by little, we were ostracized by the United States Ambassador Timmons, then by the American businessmen and government employees, with whom we had been on very good terms and, finally, came the news of the investigation of all our friends and even acquaintances in the United States.
A Russian-born society figure was a friend both of the family of President Kennedy and his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. A series of strange coincidences providing the only known link between the two families before Oswald fired the shot killing Mr. Kennedy in Dallas a year ago was described in testimony before the Warren Commission by George S. de Mohrenschildt.
Moore purposefully steered the conversation in a new direction, the city of Minsk, where, as Moore seemed to know even before he told him, De Mohrenschildt had spent his childhood. Moore then told him about an ex-American Marine who had worked in an electronics factory in Minsk for the past year and in whom there was "interest," since he was returning to the Dallas area. Although no specific requests were made by Moore, De Mohrenschildt gathered that he would be appreciative to learn more about this unusual ex-Marine's activities in Minsk.
In the summer of 1962, De Mohrenschildt heard more about this defector. One of Moore's associates handed him the address of Lee Harvey Oswald in nearby Fort Worth and then suggested that De Mohrenschildt might like to meet him. He added, as if it was an inducement, that this ex-Marine had returned from Minsk with a pretty Soviet wife.
When de Mohrenschildt and Oswald finally did meet, in October 1962, they must have seemed an odd pair. De Mohrenschildt was bull-chested and middle-aged-an anti-Communist, White Russian, aristocratic bon vivant. Oswald, by contrast, was skinny, taciturn, allegedly leftist, and twenty-two years old, from a broken lower-middle-class home. His wife, Marina, was the allegedly apolitical niece of a colonel in the Soviet secret police. Yet, despite their differences, the de Mohrenschildts and Oswalds soon became inseparable.
George and Jeanne de Mohrenschildt were constantly in and out of the Oswald household, making introductions and offering help in finding housing, child care, marriage counseling, social introductions, and more. A State Department document relates one such example. "Mrs. de Mohrenschildt took Mrs. Oswald in her car from Fort Worth to Dallas for dental treatment, a week or two after they first met Oswald," it says. "According to Mr. and Mrs. De Mohrenschildt, they were interested in the Oswalds solely in [sic] helping them as unfortunate people." The de Mohrenschildts were devoted to the Oswalds to a truly remarkable extent; never before had they been known to take such an interest in managing the details of other people's lives. And certainly not people as contentious and purportedly "difficult" as the Oswalds. Neither Lee nor Marina was easy to be around-and neither exhibited much gratitude. It certainly appeared a labor of obligation rather than of love.
Allen Dulles, head of CIA at the time, who did not interfere in the procedings but was there as a distant threat. Judge Warren himself, a rather sympathetic, paternal figure who had a weakness for Marina, we found later. Representative General Ford, friendly and youthful-looking. The last ten years changed him considerably. And then innumerable, hustling lawyers, all of them trying to figure out how a single man, Lee Harvey Oswald, could have done so much damage with his old, primitive, Italian army rifle. Having around such a galaxy of legal and political talent, you don't have to be tortured, you would impressed and intimidated to say almost anything about an insignificant, dead ex-Marine.
And during my lengthy deposition, I said some unkind things about Lee which I now regret. The reader must imagine my situation, sitting there and answering an endless flow of well prepared and insiduous questions for more than two days.... Was this an intimidation?
"We know more about your life than you yourself, so answer all my questions truthful and sincerely," Jenner began.
I should have said, "if you know everything why bring us all the way from Haiti?" But I did not and began to talk. And my answers were very nicely edited in the subsequent Report. "Say the whole truth and nothing but the truth," he intoned.
Jenner was a good actor, very cold and aloof at first, he switched to flattery and smiles when he felt that I was getting tensed up and antagonistic. "How cosmopolitan you are! How many important people you know! Yes, you are great!" said Jenner ingratiatingly. And probably this flattery worked well on me, proving to me that Albert Jenner was such a good friend of mine. So I answered all the questions to the best of my ability, with utter sincerity, without even asking to have my lawyer present and he, the sneaky bastard, did not say a word that the whole testimony would be printed and distributed all over the world. And so my privat life was shamelessly violated. During this time Jeanne and the dogs were languishing in the old Willard Hotel.
At the end of this long testimony Jenner seemed convinced that I was not involved in any way in this "already solved" assassination. He began showering compliments on me and I felt like a star of a pornographic movie. Before leaving, I told Jenner of the harm this affair was causing me, mainly of the attitude of the American Ambassador. Of the reflexion on my work in Haiti. He inserted therefore some nice statements, putting me above all suspicion. Big deal! The harm was already done. And how could I have been suspected of anything, being so far away from Dallas, unless President Duvalier and I used vodoo practices and inserted needles or shot at a doll resembling President Kennedy. Since everything was known, Jenner concluded my useless testimony with the following words: "You did all right. Keep up the life you have been living. You helped a poor family." And he added as an aside "remember, sometimes it is dangerous to be too generous with your time and help."
Despite this disclaimer of any subversive or disloyal activity on the part of de Mohrenschildt by the Warren Commission, de Mohrenschildt was rumored to have had ties with the intelligence communities of several countries. Indeed de Mohrenschildt himself admitted some involvement with French intelligence, but his actual role with them was never fully disclosed, and he emphatically denied any other intelligence associations. He explained his travels to Haiti with the cooperation of the Haitian Government as innocuous business deals with no political overtones.
Speculation also continued about Oswald's relationship to de Mohrenschildt because of the contrast between the backgrounds of the two men. De Mohrenschildt was described as sophisticated and well educated, moving easily in the social and professional circles of oilmen and the so-called "White Russian" community, many of whom were avowed rightwingers. Oswald's "lowly" background did not include much education or influence, and he was in fact shunned by the same Dallas Russian community that embraced de Mohrenschildt.
The committee undertook to probe more into the background as associations of de Mohrenschildt to determine if more light could be shed to either explain the relationship between Oswald and de Mohrenschildt or to determine if any new information contradicts that which was available to the Warren Commission. This probe seemed justified in view of the controversy that continues to surround the relationship, and the additional speculation that was caused by the apparent suicide of de Mohrenschildt in 1977 on the day he was contacted by both an investigator from the committee and a writer about Oswald.
You will excuse this hand-written letter. Maybe you will be able to bring a solution to the hopeless situation I find myself in.
My wife and I find ourselves surrounded by some vigilantes; our phone bugged; and we are being followed everywhere. Either FBI is involved in this or they do not want to accept my complaints. We are driven to insanity by the situation.
I have been behaving like a damn fool ever since my daughter Nadya died from (cystic fibrosis) over three years ago. I tried to write, stupidly and unsuccessfully, about Lee H Oswald and must have angered a lot of people I do not know. But to punish an elderly man like myself and my highly nervous and sick wife is really too much.
Could you do something to remove the net around us? This will be my last request for help and I will not annoy you any more.
Good luck in your important job.
Thank you so much.
I do know this man DeMohrenschildt.
I first met him in the early 40s. He was an uncle to my Andover roommate.
Later he surfaced in Dallas (50's maybe).
He got involved in some controversial dealings in Haiti.
Then he surfaced when Oswald shot to prominence. He knew Oswald before the assassination of President Kennedy.
I don't recall his role in all this.
At one time he had/or spent plenty of money.
I have not heard from him for many years until the attached letter came in.
In his Warren commission testimony de Mohrenschildt stated that he believed he had discussed Lee Harvey Oswald with J. Walton Moore, whom de Mohrenschildt described as "a Government man-either FBI or Central Intelligence." This admitted association with J. Walton Moore fed the rumors of some involvement by de Mohrenschildt in intelligence activities.
In 1963 J. Walton Moore was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency in Dallas, Texas, in the Domestic Contacts Division. According to Moore's CIA personnel file, he was assigned to the Domestic Contacts Division in 1948. Moore's duties in the Dallas office were contacting individuals in the area who had information on foreign topics.
In an Agency memorandum dated April 13, 1977, contained in George de Mohrenschildt's CIA file, Moore set forth facts to counter a claim which had been recently make by WFAA-TV in Dallas that Lee Harvey Oswald was employed by the CIA and that Moore know Oswald. In that memo, Moore is quoted as saying that according to his records the last time he talked to George de Mohrenschildt was in the fall of 1961. Moore said that he had no recollection of any conversation with the de Mohrenschildt concerning Lee Harvey Oswald.
An April 1, 1977, the committee received from Jeanne de Mohrenschildt, the widow of George de Mohrenschildt, a photograph of Oswald standing in a yard and holding a rifle in one hand and two newspapers in the other hand. A gun was strapped in a holster on his hip. This photograph, which was similar to other photographs recovered in a search of Oswald's property on November 23, 1963, had never been seen by the Warren Commission or law enforcement official.
On the rear of the photograph was the notation "To my friend George from Lee Oswald," with the date "5/4/63" and another notation "Copyright Geo do M", and an inscription in Russian reading "Hunter of fascists, ha-ha-ha!" a handwriting panel engaged by the committee determined that the writing "To my friend George" and the Oswald signature were the writing of Lee Harvey Oswald. The panel was not able to conclude whether the other writing was written by Lee Harvey Oswald, Marina Oswald, or George de Mohrenschildt.
On April 1, 1977, the committee also received from Jeanne de Mohrenschildt a copy of the manuscript of the book, "I Am A Patsy, I am A Patsy," which George de Mohrenschildt was writing about his relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald at the time of de Mohrenschildt's suicide on March 29, 1977.
Q: Do you think that de Mohrenschildt committed suicide because you were going to see him? What was your reaction upon hearing of his suicide?
A: Yeah. Again, this is my opinion. At the time de Mohrenschildt committed suicide, there were a number of things taking place, and a number of specific factors that put a lot of pressure on him. The House Committee was getting started again. He was being asked, I believe, to begin another role in his relationship to the assassination and his testimony before the Warren Commission. He was taken, just before he committed suicide, he was taken to Belgium by a foreign journalist. He was, I believe he felt he was, being set up. He was supposed to have a meeting with a KGB official, I believe, but he ran away. He came back to Florida. He believed he was being set up to make it appear that there was a link between him and the KGB. And then obviously a link between Oswald and the KGB because of his link to the KGB. And then, Epstein shows up. And once again, spends a whole afternoon with him at a hotel in Palm Beach. And, I think, he's under a lot of pressure. He comes back home and his daughter hands him my card. I had been there in the morning and I told his daughter that I wanted to talk to him and that I would be back in touch. He puts the card in his shirt pocket and goes upstairs and blows his head off. And so, I think you have a whole series of linkages there. He hadn't been a well man, mentally. Just months prior to that he had been treated for mental problems. So I think the linkage is there in terms of the pressures being put on him. And I do believe he committed suicide. I don't think there's enough evidence to indicate that he didn't.
At 5 p.m, a police car, siren wailing, arrived at the Breakers Hotel. It had come for me. A Sheriff's deputy explained that the States Attorney needed to see me because I was apparently the last person to have seen George De Mohrenschildt alive. De Mohrenschildt, who was a key witness in the Kennedy assassination, had died an hour before from a gunshot wound to his head.
The news came as a shock. I had been in the midst of a four-day interview with De Mohrenschildt, for which I had agreed to pay him a $4,000 "honorarium." I had never before paid anyone for an interview, but De Mohrenschildt had had an extraordinary relationship with the subject of my book, Lee Harvey Oswald. I had reason to believe that he might have been in a position to cast light on Oswald's prior entanglement in the web of intelligence services. He had been, as far as I was concerned, a man of considerable mystery. Even his date of birth - "1911," on one passport, "1914" on another - was in doubt. He had emigrated from Russia via various European countries to the United States in May 1938, and claimed such diverse occupations as insurance salesman, film producer, journalist and textile salesman. In addition, British intelligence suggested that he may have been working for German intelligence.
In any case, when he tried to join the OSS in 1941, he had been "security disapproved" because of his associations with German espionage agents. He then got involved in the oil business after the war, became a social figure in Dallas and traveled extensively around the world. In 1962, he befriended Oswald, who had just returned from Russia to Dallas, and introduced him to many people. Then, in the spring of 1963, just after Oswald attempted to assassinate General Edwin A. Walker, he abruptly broke off all contact with Oswald, and moved to Haiti, where he remained for over ten years.
What had brought De Mohrenschildt to the attention of the Warren Commission was Marina Oswald's testimony that De Mohrenschildt had rushed up the stairs of Oswald's house after he missed Walker and shouted, "Lee, how did you miss General Walker?" So he had to return from Haiti to testify. When questioned about this remark by the Commission, De Mohrenschildt shrugged it off as nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence: a "joke." He then returned to the obscurity of Haiti and gave no more interviews.
He returned to the U.S. in the mid-1960s. I first interviewed him on April 22, 1976, but he was not forthcoming. Then, he mysteriously vanished in Europe. When he returned in 1977, he informed me that he needed money. At that point, I offered him a $1,000 a day for a 4-day interview. The first day had gone well. With the help of my research assistant, Nancy Lanoue, I managed to fill in many of the gaps in his career prior to his meeting Oswald.
Then, this morning, I asked him about why he, a socialite in Dallas, sought out Oswald, a defector. His explanation, if believed, put the assassination in a new and unnerving context. He said that although he had never been a paid employee of the CIA, he had "on occasion done favors" for CIA connected officials. In turn, they had helped in his business contacts overseas. By way of example, he pointed to the contract for a survey of the Yugoslavian coast awarded to him in 1957. He assumed his "CIA connections" had arranged it for him and he provided them with reports on the Yugoslav officials in whom they had expressed interest.
In late 1961 - De Mohrenschildt could not pinpoint the date - he said had a lunchtime meeting in downtown Dallas with one of these connections; J. Walter Moore. Moore steered their conversation to the city of Minsk, where, as Moore seemed to know even before he told him, De Mohrenschildt had spent his childhood. Moore worked for the CIA's domestic contact service in Dallas. He told De Mohrenschildt about an ex-American Marine who had worked in an electronics factory in Minsk for the past year, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was returning to the Dallas area. Although no specific requests were made by Moore, De Mohrenschildt gathered that Moore would be appreciative to learn more about Oswald's activities in Minsk.At this time, he was extremely busy trying to arrange for Papa Doc Duvalier, the Haitian dictator, to approve his oil exploration deal in that country. Some help from the U.S. Embassy in Haiti would be greatly appreciated by him, he suggested to Moore. Although he recognized that there was no quid pro quo, he hoped that he might receive the same sort of tacit assistance that he had previously received in Yugoslavia. "I would never have contacted Oswald in a million years, if Moore had not sanctioned it," he explained to me "Too much was at stake."
When Oswald arrived in Dallas, De Mohrenschildt paid a visit to his house because, he explained to me, he "assumed that was what Moore wanted." He then conducted an unwitting debriefing of Oswald - a subtle questioning in which the subject, Oswald, in this case, did not realize he was being debriefed.
Q: There's a thesis that Lee Harvey Oswald was befriended by a wealthy man, George de Mohrenschildt in Texas, who could have had CIA connections and could effectively have been debriefing Oswald without Oswald knowing it. What do you make of that theory?
A: We looked very carefully into the activity of a man named George de Mohrenschildt, a Russian, like Lee Harvey Oswald. He was a sophisticated man, a very articulate man, a world traveler, and George de Mohrenschildt and his wife befriended Oswald and Marina in this country and we explored very carefully whether he could have been a contact, an indirect contact, between the agency and one of its own agents, Lee Harvey Oswald. After a careful study, we were not able to establish that George de Mohrenschildt was connected to the CIA.
Clemard Joseph Charles was recruited by the CIA in 1963, the same year the agency was sponsoring and paying exile and rebel groups to try to overthrow Papa Doc. We know Charles was recruited by the CIA then because of the findings in the late 1970s of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
The committee was investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy and tracking a man named George DeMohrenschildt, a White Russian count with extensive ties to the CIA. DeMohrenschildt had moved to Texas, worked in the oil business and befriended Lee Harvey Oswald. In fact, there is some evidence that DeMohrenschildt was used by the CIA to keep an eye on Oswald. DeMohrenschildt had met Charles in Haiti, where he had business interests, including a share in the government sisal hemp operation. DeMohrenschildt was also keeping an eye on Clint Murchison's meat-packing business and cattle ranches there. At one time he had worked for Three States Oil and Gas, one of Murchison's oil companies.
DeMohrenschildt was also on close, friendly terms with Houston oilman John Mecom, Sr., according to a Houston private eye familiar with the Russian count. And the count and George Bush apparently knew each other. Bush's name and his Midland, Texas, address were in DeMohrenschildt's address book.
One CIA contract agent, Herbert Atkin, has reported that DeMohrenschildt's real job in Haiti in 1963 was to supervise a CIA-sponsored plan to overthrow Duvalier.
In May 1963, DeMohrenschildt arranged a meeting between Clemard Charles and Dorothy Matlack, who was Assistant Director of the Army Office of Intelligence, the U.S. Army's liaison with the CIA. According to DeMohrenschildt's CIA files, which the assassination committee obtained, the purpose of the meeting with Matlack was to arrange a rendezvous between Charles and a CIA representative. DeMohrenschildt attended the meeting with the CIA, to Matlack's surprise. "She did not know what role DeMohrenschildt was serving, but felt he 'dominated' Charles in some way," reads the committee's CIA memo, which then reported that Matlack stated, "I knew the Texan [DeMohrenschildt] wasn't there to sell hemp."
Finally, the kicker in the CIA memo: "Because of the potential political information Charles could give about the current situation in Haiti, the CIA became the primary contact with Charles."
That puts Charles's ability to obtain two aircraft from the United States in 1964 during an embargo and his subsequent 1967 jailing by Duvalier in a whole new light. For it was in 1967 that Mitch WerBell, along with some Haitians and Cuban exiles, were caught planning an invasion of Haiti from Florida.
WerBell was a veteran of the OSS office in China during World War II along with E. Howard Hunt, Paul Helliwell and John Singlaub. He told author Jonathan Kwitny that he did not work "for" the CIA, but "with" the CIA. He said the distinction was that he got paid by private groups and not by the CIA.
Late Monday afternoon, on March 28th, I received a call from Tanenbaum. The House was scheduled to vote that Wednesday on the reauthorization bill and the Committee members as well as the top staff counsel had been spending most of their time lobbying among the individual lawmakers for support. As they discovered, while many of the Congressmen didn't care for Gonzalez, he was part of the club. Some members even resented Sprague - viewed by a least one Congressman as "just a clerk" - for having beaten out Gonzalez.
That Monday, Gonzalez himself had been on the House floor ranting again about Sprague's "insubordination" and even distributing copies of a "Dear Colleague" letter to every House member urging that the Committee be dropped. He was thirsting for revenge.
I asked Tanenbaum how it looked.
"It depends on who you talk to what time of the day." He did not sound optimistic. "Anyway, Wednesday is the day. We'll know one way or the other."
We talked about the situation for a while and then I told Tanenbaum that while waiting around, I had discovered a CIA agent named J. Walton Moore running an overt domestic division office in Dallas. Moore had been there since the time of the Kennedy assassination and, there were some telling hints in his personality and activities. On the off-chance that Moore might be Maurice Bishop, I asked a friend of mine, a local reporter, to have a surreptitious photograph of Moore taken so I could show it to Veciana. (As it turned out, Moore did not resemble Bishop and Veciana confirmed that he wasn't.)
At any rate, I was telling Tanenbaum of my plans to have the photograph taken. I told him that Moore was additionally interesting because he had been in touch with George de Mohrenschildt, a much traveled oil consultant with mysterious connections. As mentioned earlier, while living in Dallas, de Mohrenschildt had befriended the Oswalds as soon as they had returned from Russia.
"By the way," Tanenbaum said, "I just got a call from the Dutch journalist, Willem Oltmans. He's the guy I was telling you about."
But Tanenbaum needn't have, because Oltmans had already gone national - doing on various television interviews, and then going to Washington to tell his story to the Committee. He had befriended de Mohrenschildt and claimed that de Mohrenschildt had confessed that he was part of a "Dallas conspiracy" of oil men and Cuban exiles with "a blood debt to settle." De Mohrenschildt admitted, Oltmans said, that Oswald "acted at his guidance and instruction."
De Mohrenschildt had apparently suffered a nervous breakdown at the time he was talking with Oltmans, but he left a hospital in Dallas to travel with Oltmans to Europe reportedly to negotiate book and magazine rights to his story. Then in Brussels, Oltmans claimed, de Mohrenschildt ran away from him and disappeared.
Now Tanenbaum told me that Oltmans had just called him from California. Oltmans said that in tracking de Mohrenschildt he found that de Mohrenschildt could be reached in Florida. Tanenbaum gave me the phone number. Now Tanenbaum really had something for me.
That afternoon, I checked out the number. It was listed to a Mrs. C.E. Tilton III in Manalapan, a small strip of a town on the ocean south of Palm Beach noted for its wealthy residents. Mrs. Tilton, I discovered, was the sister of one of de Mohrenschildt's former wives. I decided it would be best if I could contact him directly rather than by telephone and so it was early on March 29th, 1977, when I went looking for George de Mohrenschildt in Manalapan.
Robert Tanenbaum: What was the reason he told you about going to commit suicide?
William Oltmans: One of the reasons was, I found it in my notes, that he doesn't want his children to look upon, to their father for the rest of their life as having been involved, directly involved in the killing of President Kennedy. He would say - and I have notes - "I would rather kill myself than let my children" - and he called not only his daughter Alexandra, but also his brother, Professor de Mohrenschildt, who is in California. He said, "My brother and daughter, I don't want to have to live the rest of their lives by this thing." You know, that he was involved. "I would rather shoot myself." He told me that various times."
Robert Tanenbaum: All right, sir. So, up until the time that you left New York City from John F. Kennedy Airport, did you have any other conversations with him with regard to the assassination of the President?
William Oltmans: Yes, repeatedly.
Robert Tanenbaum: Now, again in substance, tell us what, if anything George de Mohrenschildt told you - this is up until the time you were in New York City - about the assassination.
William Oltmans: Sir, pages and pages. I will...
Robert Tanenbaum: In substance, will you tell us what he said, please.
William Oltmans: Each time he would reveal something else....
Robert Tanenbaum: Did you have any conversations of substance with him in New York?
William Oltmans: Not at all. New York, talked a bit, but not in London.
Robert Tanenbaum: Up until this time, had he ever mentioned Jack Ruby or H. L. Hunt?
William Oltmans: Yes.
Robert Tanenbaum: Up until this time?
William Oltmans: Yes, I forgot all about that.
Robert Tanenbaum: Would you please tell us that, then.
William Oltmans: O.K. You see, in Dallas, in the many talks I had with him about going, I asked him point blank, "Did you know Ruby?"
"Have you been in Ruby's Bar?"
"Then what happened to Oswald. If Oswald set up the Kennedy Assassination, he must have had a lot of money."
De Mohrenschildt, with a devilish laugh said "He wasn't long enough around to get the money."
Then I said, "But who would pay?"
You see, he talked in circles. He was still talking in circles. He was coming around to talking, but when I asked him, who would put up that kind of money, he said, well, he would reply, "Well, did you see the letter of Oswald, was released by the FBI, to Hunt? Now, why do you think Oswald would write to Mr. H. L. Hunt?"
Then I said "Do you know Hunt, have you known him?"
He said, "I knew him for 20 years. I was very close with him. I went to all his parties."
You see, de Mohrenschildt clearly indicated that the money had come from, that his contacts were "upwards to Hunt, and downwards to Oswald."
During their stay in Washington, the DeMohrenschildts visited in the home of Jackie Kennedy's mother, now Mrs. Hugh D. Auchincloss, who, according to an unpublished book by DeMohrenschildt, said; "Incidentally, my daughter Jacqueline never wants to see you again because you were close to her husband's assassin."
Returning to Haiti, the DeMohrenschildt's problems there increased to the point that in 1967 they were forced to sneak away from the island aboard a German freighter, which brought them to Port Arthur, Texas. Here, according to Jeanne in a 1978 interview with this author, the DeMohrenschildts were met by an associate of former Oklahoma senator and oilman Bob Kerr. The returning couple were extended the hospitality of Kerr's home.
By the 1970s, the DeMohrenschildts were living quietly in Dallas, although once they were questioned by two men who claimed to be from Life magazine. A check showed the men were phonies.
DeMohrenschildt seemed content to teach French at Bishop College, a predominantly black school in south Dallas. Then in the spring of 1976, George, who suffered from chronic bronchitis, had a particularly bad attack. Distrustful of hospitals, he was persuaded by someone-Jeanne cannot today recall who-to see a newly arrived doctor in Dallas named Dr. Charles Mendoza. After several trips to Mendoza in the late spring and summer, DeMohrenschildt's bronchial condition improved, but he began to experience the symptoms of a severe nervous breakdown. He became paranoid, claiming that "the Jewish Mafia and the FBI" were after him.
Alarmed, Jeanne accompanied her husband to Dr. Mendoza and discovered he was giving DeMohrenschildt injections and costly drug prescriptions. She told this author: " When I confronted (Mendoza) with this information, as well as asking him exactly what kind of medication and treatments he was giving George, he became very angry and upset. By then, I had become suspicious and started accompanying George on each of his visits to the doctor. But this physician would not allow me to be with George during his treatments. He said George was gravely ill and had to be alone during treatments."
Jeanne said her husband's mental condition continued to deteriorate during this time. She now claims: "I have become convinced that this doctor, in some way, lies behind the nervous breakdown George suffered in his final months."
The doctor is indeed mysterious. A check with the Dallas County Medical Society showed that Dr. Mendoza first registered in April 1976, less than two months before he began treating DeMohrenschildt and at the same time the House Select Committee on Assassinations was beginning to be funded.
Mendoza left Dallas in December, just a few months after DeMohrenschildt refused to continue treatments, at the insistence of his wife. Mendoza left the society a forwarding address that proved to be nonexistent. He also left behind a confused and unbalanced George DeMohrenschildt.
During the fall of 1976 while in this unbalanced mental state, DeMohrenschildt completed his unpublished manuscript entitled, I Am a Patsy! I Am a Patsy! after Oswald's famous remark to newsmen in the Dallas police station. In the manuscript, DeMohrenschildt depicts Oswald as a cursing, uncouth man with assassination on his mind, a totally opposite picture from his descriptions of Oswald through the years.
The night he finished the manuscript, DeMohrenschildt attempted suicide by taking an overdose of tranquilizers. Paramedics were called, but they declined to take him to a hospital. They found DeMohrenschildt also had taken his dog's digitalis, which counteracted the tranquilizers.
Shortly after his attempted suicide, Jeanne committed her husband to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. To gauge his mental condition at this time, consider what he told Parkland roommate Clifford Wilson: "I know damn well Oswald didn't kill Kennedy-because Oswald and I were together at the time." DeMohrenschildt told Wilson that he and Oswald were in downtown Dallas watching the Kennedy motorcade pass when shots were fired. He said that at the sound of shots Oswald ran away and DeMohrenschildt never saw him again."
This story, which was reported in the April 26, 1977, edition of the National Enquirer as "Exclusive New Evidence," is untrue since both George and Jeanne were at a reception in the Bulgarian embassy in Haiti the day Kennedy was killed. But the incident serves to illustrate George DeMohrenschildt's mental condition at the time.
In early 1977, DeMohrenschildt, convinced that evil forces were still after him, fled to Europe with Dutch journalist Willems Oltmans, who later created a furor by telling the House Select Committee on Assassinations that DeMohrenschildt claimed he knew of Oswald's assassination plan in advance.
However, DeMohrenschildt grew even more fearful in Europe. In a letter found after his death, he wrote: "As I can see it now, the whole purpose of my meeting in Holland was to ruin me financially and completely."
In mid-March DeMohrenschildt fled to a relative's Florida home leaving behind clothing and other personal belongings. It was in the fashionable Manalapan, Florida, home of his sister-in-law, that DeMohrenschildt died of a shotgun blast to the head on March 29, 1977, just three hours after a representative of the House Select Committee on Assassinations tried to contact him there.
Earlier that day, he had met author Edward J. Epstein for an interview. In a 1983 Wall Street Journal article, Epstein wrote that DeMohrenschildt told him that day that the CIA had asked him "to keep tabs on Oswald."
However, the thing that may have triggered DeMohrenschildt's fear was that Epstein showed him a document that indicated George DeMohrenschildt might be sent back to Parkland for further shock treatments, according to a statement by Attorney David Bludworth, who represented the state during the investigation into DeMohrenschildt's death.
Although several aspects of DeMohrenschildt's death caused chief investigator Capt. Richard Sheets of the Palm County Sheriff's Office to term the shooting "very strange," a coroner's jury quickly ruled suicide.
It is unclear if Oltmans knew of DeMohrenschildt's mental problems at the time he made his statements, but in later years, Jeanne told the newsman: "If George's death was engineered, it is because you focused such attention on my husband that the real conspirators decided to eliminate him just in case George actually knew something, just like so many others involved in the assassination."
Like Fitzgerald's Gatsby, Baron George Sergei de Mohrenschildt was borne back ceaselessly into the past. In June 1976, a sultry day in Dallas, he had stood gazing out the picture window of his second-story apartment, talking casually about a young man who used to curl up on the couch with the Baron's Great Danes.
"No matter what they say, Lee Harvey Oswald was a delightful guy," de Mohrenschildt was saying. "They make a moron out of him, but he was smart as hell. Ahead of his time really, a kind of hippie of those days. In fact, he was the most honest man I knew. And I will tell you this - I am sure he did not shoot the president."
Nine months later, on March 29, one hour after an investigator for the House Assassinations Committee left a calling-card with his daughter, the Baron apparently put a shotgun to his head in Palm Beach, Florida. In his absence came forward a Dutch journalist and longtime acquaintance, Willem Oltmans, with the sensational allegation that de Mohrenschildt had admitted serving as a middleman between Oswald and H. L. Hunt in an assassination plot involving other Texas oilmen, anti-Castro Cubans, and elements of the FBI and CIA.
But how credible was de Mohrenschildt? As an old friend in Dallas' Russian community, George Bouhe, once put it: "He's better equipped than anybody to talk. But we have an old Russian proverb that will always apply to George de Mohrenschildt: "The soul of the other person is in the darkness."'
Intrigue and oil were the two constants in the Baron's life. He was an emigrant son of the Czarist nobility who spoke five languages fluently and who, during the Second World War, was rumored to have spied for the French, Germans, Soviets and Latin Americans (the CIAs predecessor, the OSS, turned down his application). After the war, he went on to perform geological surveys for major U.S. oil companies all over South America, Europe and parts of Africa. He became acquainted with certain of Texas' more influential citizens - oilman John Mecom, construction magnates George and Herman Brown. In Mexico, he gained audience in 1960 with Soviet First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan. In 1961 he was present in Guatemala City - by his account, on a "walking tour" - when the Bay of Pigs troops set out for Cuba.
Finally, when Lee and Marina Oswald returned to Texas from the Soviet Union in June 1962, the Baron soon became their closest friend. Why? Why would a member of the exclusive Dallas Petroleum Club take under his wing a Trotsky-talking sheet-metal worker some 30 years his junior?
The Warren Commission took 118 pages of his testimony to satisfy itself of de Mohrenschildt's benign intent, but among critics the question persisted: Was the Baron really "baby-sitting" Oswald for the CIA? While de Mohrenschildt told the commission he'd never served as any government's agent "in any respect whatsoever," a CIA file for the commission, declassified in 1976, admits having used him as a source. In the course of several meetings with a man from its Dallas office upon de Mohrenschildt's return from Yugoslavia late in 1957, "the CIA representative obtained foreign intelligence which was promptly disseminated to other federal agencies in ten separate reports."The Dallas official, according to the file, maintained "informal occasional contact" with the Baron until the fall of 1961.
The Warren Commission volumes, however, contain only passing reference in de Mohrenschildt's testimony to a government man named "G. Walter Moore." His true name was J. Walton Moore, and he had served the CIA in Dallas since its inception in 1947.
In two brief, cryptic interviews with me in the 18 months before his death, de Mohrenschildt claimed he would not have struck up his relationship with Oswald "if Jim Moore hadn't told me Oswald was safe." The Baron wouldn't elaborate on that statement, except to hint that it constituted some kind of clearance.
J. Walton Moore is now a tall, white-haired man in his middle sixties, who continues to operate out of Dallas' small CIA office. Questioned at his home one summer evening in 1976 about de Mohrenschildt's remarks, he conceded knowing the Baron as a "pleasant sort of fellow" who provided "some decent information" after a trip to Yugoslavia. "To the best of my recollection, I hadn't seen de Mohrenschildt for a couple of years before the assassination," Moore added. "I don't know where George got the idea that I cleared Oswald for him. I never met Oswald. I never heard his name before the assassination."
For sure, the CIA did maintain an interest in de Mohrenschildt at least through April 1963. That month, Oswald left Texas for New Orleans and de Mohrenschildt prepared to depart for a lucrative geological survey contract in Haiti. On April 29, according to a CIA Office of Security file, also declassified in 1976, "[Deleted] Case Officer had requested an expedite check of GEORGE DE MOHRENSCHILDT for reasons unknown to Security."
There is one alleged ex-CIA contract employee, now working for an oil company in Los Angeles, prepared to testify that de Mohrenschildt was the overseer of an aborted CIA plot to overthrow Haitian President Francois ("Papa Doc") Duvalier in June 1963. The existence of such a plot was examined, but apparently couldn't be substantiated, by the Church Committee. Herb Atkin is sure the plot did exist.
"I knew de Mohrenschildt as Philip Harbin," Atkin said when contacted by telephone a few days after the Baron's suicide. "A lot of people in Washington have claimed that Harbin did not exist. But he's the one that ran me from the late fifties onward. I'm certain that de Mohrenschildt was my case officer's real name."
If so, the Harbin alias may have a readily identifiable origin. De Mohrenschildt's fourth wife, Jeanna, was born in Harbin, China.
One summer day in 1976, still in her bathrobe, she sat at a dining room table cluttered with plants and dishes and watched her husband begin to pace the floor. "Of course, the truth of the assassination has not come out," she said. "It will never come out. But we know it was a vast conspiracy."
The Baron turned to face her. "Oswald," he said, "was a harmless lunatic."
At our first interview, I had asked de Mohrenschildt what he knew about the recurring reports of Oswald in the presence of Cubans. He had nodded agreement. "Oswald probably did not know himself who they were," he replied. "I myself was in a little bit of danger from those Cubans, but I don't know who they are. Criminal lunatics."When I broached the subject now in the presence of his wife, de Mohrenschildt said something to her in Russian. She then answered for him: "That's a different story. But one must examine the anti-Castro motive of the time. After the Bay of Pigs."
A few months later, de Mohrenschildt was committed by his wife to the psychiatric unit of Parkland Memorial Hospital. There were rumors of a book naming CIA names in connection with Oswald, squirreled away with his wife's attorney. According to journalist Oltmans, upon leaving the hospital de Mohrenschildt told him: "They're going to kill me or put me away forever. You've got to get me out of the country." In March, the Baron took a leave-of-absence from his French professorship at Dallas' virtually all-black Bishop College. He flew with Oltmans to Belgium, wandered away during lunch, and wound up in Florida at his daughter's home. There, a tape machine being used to transcribe a television program is said to have recorded his suicide.
In January 1976, he (George de Mohrenschildt) wrote to Willem Oltmans, a freelance Dutch television reporter whom he had met eight years earlier. Oltmans's reason for maintaining contact with de Mohrenschildt has been a subject of some speculation, including among his Dutch media colleagues. His profile at times appears less that of the typical left-leaning Dutch journalist and more suggestive of a U.S. intelligence agent. Former colleagues of Oltmans, who is deceased, described him to me as a complex and mysterious figure. As will become clear, Oltmans was a cipher to one and all, sometimes seeming to be determined to expose the truth, and sometimes to do the opposite. Perhaps he was something of a free agent, pursuing a particular course yet unhappy about it. But one thing is certain: just as de Mohrenschildt helped steer Oswald, to a lesser extent Oltmans did the same for de Mohrenschildt.
Oltmans was the son of an affluent family with a history in colonial Indonesia. A Dutch citizen, he had graduated in the same Yale University class as William F. Buckley, and was a strident anti-Communist. Though he had no apparent connections to Dallas, Oltmans was drawn into conservative circles in that city shortly after Allen Dulles's forced resignation and about the time that the CIA's Dallas officer J. Walton Moore began talking to George de Mohrenschildt about Lee Harvey Oswald. Oltmans's reason for visiting at that time was an invitation to give occasional lectures to women's groups. Those female auxiliaries played important support roles in Dallas's highly politicized and arch-conservative elite, as did the White Russian community, the independent oilmen, and the military contractors and intelligence officers.
Oltmans's name appears on a schedule of upcoming speakers at the Dallas Woman's Club published in the Dallas Morning News in October 1961. The leadoff speaker for that season: Edward Tomlinson, "roving Latin American editor" for Reader's Digest.
Oltmans's next invitation to speak to the Dallas ladies appears to have been in January 1964, shortly after Kennedy's assassination. At that time, Oltmans met Lee Harvey Oswald's mother on a plane (a coincidence, he said). She mentioned to him her suspicions about the fact that the Dallas police had interrogated her at length about her son but failed to record the important biographical details she provided them. She told Oltmans that she suspected a conspiracy at work.
From that moment forward, in his telling, Oltmans was hooked on the JFK mystery. He interviewed George and Jeanne de Mohrenschildt in 1968 and 1969 and remained in touch with them in the years that followed. George de Mohrenschildt got so comfortable with Oltmans that in early 1976 de Mohrenschildt sent him a few pages of a manuscript about his life, with an emphasis on his interactions with Oswald. Oltmans edited the incomplete and stiffly written pages and sent them back to de Mohrenschildt.