Nonsense in North Dakota

By W. Tracy Parnell Ó 2002


Researcher John Armstrong has gained notoriety within the JFK assassination community for his work on a Two-Oswald theory that he calls "Harvey and Lee". Mr. Armstrong has made several presentations in recent years outlining his hypothesis. According to the theory, there were two individuals using the name Lee Harvey Oswald and living a parallel existence. One Oswald would ultimately be framed for the assassination of JFK while the other escaped undetected, presumably with the help of whatever government agency or group was responsible for the plot. A study of Mr. Armstrong’s allegation of a "Harvey" Oswald in North Dakota reveals how inaccurate information was used and reused by researchers until fiction became "fact".


The story begins in December 1963, when Mrs. Alma Cole of Yuma, Arizona wrote a letter to President Johnson. Mrs. Cole claimed that her son, William Henry Timmer, knew Oswald when Timmer lived in Stanley, North Dakota. Mrs. Cole went on to say that others in the town of Stanley were aware that Oswald had lived there. [1]


The FBI contacted Timmer and he told a story of a teenage boy called "Harvey" who rode a bike, talked of gangs in New York City, and toted communist literature. Timmer believed this was the Warren Commission's Lee Harvey Oswald. [2]


John Armstrong makes use of the Timmer story in his "Harvey and Lee" presentations. In Jerry Robertson’s Denial #2, Vol. 1, page 3, Armstrong states, "This is the first known reference to "Harvey Oswald", the person who would eventually assume the identity of Lee Oswald". He uses Timmer's allegation that "Harvey" previously lived in New York to suggest that "Harvey" went from New York to North Dakota while "Lee" lived in New Orleans. In support of this "North Dakota" theory, Armstrong alleges that LHO told New Orleans Police Lieutenant Francis Martello, after his arrest in the infamous Canal Street incident, that he lived in North Dakota. His source for this statement is unnamed. [*] He also uses a newspaper article published the day after the assassination by Aline Mosby (who interviewed Oswald in Russia) that quotes Oswald as saying, "Then we moved to North Dakota and I discovered one book in the library, "Das Kapital". It was what I'd been looking for". [3] These items seemed to provide collaboration for Timmer's story and were virtually unchallenged by researchers.


Recently, however, Dave Reitzes posted an article [4] on the two major assassination Internet newsgroups (alt.assassination.jfk and alt.conspiracy.jfk) that cast doubt on the entire North Dakota matter. It seems that Reitzes, who had supported Armstrong in the past, decided to check the sources that appeared to provide collaboration for Timmer's story. Reitzes first checked Martello's interview report and WC testimony on the LMP CD-ROM and found no mention of North Dakota. He then went to Mosby's WC account of her meeting with Oswald (CE 1385) [5] and again any reference to North Dakota was absent. Reitzes concluded that the single reference to North Dakota from Mosby's 1963 UPI article was probably a transcription error. Researchers who used Armstrong's work without checking the sources for themselves would only be repeating the mistake.


A day after Reitzes’ post, researcher Peter Whitmey, who has studied Mosby in some detail, provided additional insight in a post on alt.assassination.jfk. [6] Whitmey points out that in both CE 1385 and the November 23, 1963 UPI article, which Armstrong uses to make his North Dakota argument, Mosby quotes LHO as saying that he found other Marxist books "…on dusty back shelves in the New Orleans library". "I thought it was odd," Whitmey writes, "that Oswald appeared to first find "Das Kapital" in a North Dakota library, but then located more books on the subject of Marxism in a New Orleans library. It looks to me like John Armstrong was so intent on finding evidence to support the allegations of various residents of Stanley, North Dakota, that he allowed himself to overlook the possibility that the reference to North Dakota was a simple typing error." [7]


A comparison of the two articles side by side shows that Reitzes’ and Whitmey’s concerns are well founded. In the November 23, 1963 UPI piece, Mosby quotes LHO as saying, "Then we moved to North Dakota 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 for the first time". [8] Later in the piece, Mosby quotes LHO again, "I found some Marxist books on dusty shelves in the New Orleans library and continued to indoctrinate myself for five years".


In CE 1385, Mosby has LHO saying, "Then we moved to New Orleans 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 for the first time," he said. His eyes shone like those of a religious enthusiast, "I read the "Manifesto", it got me interested. I found some dusty back shelves in the New Orleans library, you know, I had to remove some front books to get at the books". LHO continued, "I started to study Marxist economic theories. I could see the impoverishment of the workers before my own eyes in my own mother, and I could see the capitalists. I thought the worker's life could be better. I continued to indoctrinate myself for five years". [9]


The fact that WC 1385 contains more detail likely means that it is drawn from Mosby's original handwritten source notes. Indeed, the last paragraph of CE 1385 describes a tan notebook labeled "defector", an apparent reference to those notes. The UPI article is simply a shorter version containing the same basic information except for the incongruous reference to North Dakota. What probably happened is that Mosby in her handwritten notes abbreviated New Orleans as "NO", and an assistant read the "O" as "D" and the rest is history.


Additionally, Debra Conway made the following points (which she originally posted on the Internet in 1999) to me during the preparation of this article:


CE 1385, page 4 of Mosby’s notes read: “Oswald said he was born Oct. 18, 1939 in New Orleans.” On the same page, the very next paragraph states, “Behind the lacy facades of the picturesque French quarter, New Orleans is a tough town…”. In the same vein, on page 5 of the notes, Mosby quotes LHO as saying, “That’s when we moved to New Orleans…”. [10] Obviously, if Mosby’s handwritten notes had said “North Dakota”, she would not have included the additional New Orleans details or the quote from LHO.


One final point on the Mosby-North Dakota matter: Priscilla Johnson McMillan interviewed LHO four days after Mosby, and her original handwritten notes are available in the WC volumes as Johnson Exhibit #1. Her notes clearly say New Orleans and not North Dakota. The question is why would LHO tell one interviewer one thing and then change his story four days later?


After accepting that the single "North Dakota" reference is a typing error and lacking a source for the alleged Martello-LHO "North Dakota" connection, we are left with only the statement of Timmer. A close look at the FBI document [11]containing his statement shows that Timmer's identification of LHO is far from rock-solid.


The first point of interest is that Timmer apparently hatched the idea that the person he saw in Stanley was LHO only after his mother, Alma Cole, sent him a newspaper clipping about 2 weeks after the assassination. The clipping showed photos of LHO, and Cole had written beneath the photos, "Was he around Stanley? Seems like you knew him, I may be mistaken (mom)".  Timmer, who was on welfare at the time and living in a motel, claimed that he was ill and had not seen any TV or newspaper coverage of the assassination. After seeing the clippings from his mother, he "had a funny feeling" because he knew he had seen the face before. He wrote his mother saying that "… it looked pretty much like the young fellow who was in Stanley in 1953".


At that point, Cole wrote the aforementioned letter to President Johnson. Once this happened, Timmer probably felt that he was "locked in" to the story even though he was far from certain about his identification of LHO. FBI Special Agent Donald Head revealed that, "He (Timmer) said it is possible he is mistaken in his identity but does not think so because of the same name and he recognized the photograph".


What probably happened is that Timmer and Cole picked up some "post-event information". Dr. Solomon Fulero, a lawyer, Professor of Psychology, and expert on eyewitness testimony explained this phenomenon on a recent episode of the CBS News magazine 48 Hours. Fulero stated, "People, when they are exposed to information after an event occurs, can actually incorporate that information into their memory of the initial event and remember it as though it had occurred at the time". [12]


It would seem likely then that Timmer and Cole took information from television and/or newspaper reports and merged this with their memories of an unusual boy from 11 years earlier. Although Timmer initially claimed that he didn't see TV or newspaper reports because of his illness, later in the FBI document he says "…he had heard his (Oswald's) name on television…". It is, of course, unlikely that Timmer watched no TV or read no newspapers at all during this fateful and historic week. And, furthermore, all the information about LHO's life would have been readily available in newspapers and magazines by the time Timmer was interviewed by Head in late December 1963. The references to LHO being a loner, having lived in New York, and having read communist literature were all public domain by the time of Timmer's FBI interview.


What about Timmer's description of "Harvey"? Does it jibe with Armstrong's theories about the personalities of "Harvey" and "Lee"? According to Armstrong, Timmer's sighting is the first record of "Harvey". [13] Timmer describes "Harvey" as someone who spoke of gang fights in New York City and makeshift weapons made from razors stuck in potatoes. He also told Timmer that he wanted to kill the President someday. [14] But according to Armstrong's theories, Harvey is the non-violent individual who is later set up as the patsy and who had nothing to do with the death of JFK. [15] Similarly, "Harvey" would later make a threat against President Eisenhower, according to one of Armstrong's major witnesses, Palmer McBride. [16] It would seem, unfortunately for Armstrong, that "Harvey" has some of  "Lee's" characteristics mixed in.


The evidence then is far from convincing that LHO or a double was ever in North Dakota. A typing error and the memories of a mother and son, tainted by information readily available in any newspaper, do not add up to two Oswalds.

[*] A brief discussion on the issue of documents is in order. There seem to be two documents in question. The first was allegedly found by Armstrong on the FBI Series 2 Microfilm released by UMI. This document is purported to be Mosby’s original handwritten notes and contains the reference to “North Dakota” or “N. Dakota”. The second document is allegedly an FBI report supporting the North Dakota claim.


 Addressing the Mosby issue first, even if this were true and “North Dakota” were in Mosby’s original notes, I believe that if you study the paper trail carefully it shows "North Dakota" had to be an error. Mr. Armstrong has been challenged by researchers to produce this document and so far he has not. The second document (which I asked Armstrong’s associates to post on the Internet to no avail) is believed to simply be an FBI report that repeats the 1963 UPI North Dakota mistake.


[1] Jerry Robertson, Denial #2 Vol. 2: The John Armstrong Research (self-published, 1998), Item 14A.

[2] Ibid., Item 15A.

[3] Ibid., Item 16.

[4] Long Division: One Researcher, Ten Months and Two Oswalds posted on April 8, 1999.

[5] CE 1385 is titled "Notes of interview of Lee Harvey Oswald conducted by Aline Mosby in Moscow in November 1959". However, post-assassination references made later in the text date the piece and show that it was probably intended as source material for a magazine article.

[6] John Armstrong's Research and Theory, posted April 9, 1999.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Oswald Interview Recalled, UPI story by Aline Mosby, November 23, 1963.

[9] Warren Commission Exhibit 1385.

[10] Email message from Debra Conway.

[11] FBI Report by Special Agent Donald H. Head dated December 27, 1963 concerning information furnished by William Henry Timmer regarding Oswald's alleged activities in Stanley, ND. Posted on alt.conspiracy.jfk by Jim Hargrove on April 20, 1999.

[12] Eyewitness. CBS News Magazine 48 Hours. July, 1998.

[13] Jerry Robertson, Denial #2 Vol. 1: The John Armstrong Research (self-published, 1998), p. 3.

[14] FBI Report by SA Donald H. Head.

[15] See The "Harvey and Lee" website of Jim Hargrove for more information on the personalities of "Harvey and Lee".

[16] CE 1386.



Home: Exhumation: Harvey & Lee: Timeline: Content: Resources: About:
Website and Articles © W. Tracy Parnell-All Rights Reserved
Other Articles Are Copyright of the Respective Authors
Optimized For 1024 by 768 Resolution and 32 Bit Color