Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Letter by Oswald Is Found With Late Senator’s Papers


The box had sat untouched in the attic of a Washington house until recently, when the sale of the house forced some cleaning out, some poking around in long-overlooked places.

Inside the box was a manila file folder headed: “Lee Harvey Oswald.”

Inside the folder was a handwritten letter that Oswald had sent from Russia, complaining that the Soviet Union would not grant him an exit visa to the United States. It was addressed to Senator John Tower of Texas, who had lived in the house with his second wife in the 1980s.

The other items in the folder are all typewritten — letters from Mr. Tower to the State Department, letters from the American consul in Moscow to Oswald, letters from the State Department to Mr. Tower, and brief memorandums from Mr. Tower’s staff after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as Mr. Tower defended himself against the impression that he had helped clear the way for Oswald’s return to this country.

A Texas company plans to open an online auction of the items, perhaps as early as today. The company, EasySale, maintains that the letters are originals, not copies like the ones that are among Mr. Tower’s papers at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Tex. A handwriting expert hired by the company to examine the Oswald letter concluded that the tight script was Oswald’s.

The Oswald letter to Mr. Tower, who died in 1991, is undated but was widely quoted after the Kennedy assassination and again in the Warren Commission report in 1964.

It began as an appeal from a constituent: “My name is Lee Harvey Oswald, 22, of Fort Worth up till October 1959,” when, he wrote, he had gone to the Soviet Union “for a residential stay.”

After explaining his visa problem, Oswald wrote, “I beseech you, Senator Tower, to rise [sic] the question of holding by the Soviet Union of a citizen of the U.S., against his will and expressed desires!!”

According to the Warren Commission report, a caseworker in Mr. Tower’s office forwarded the letter to the State Department under a cover letter that was “machine signed by the Senator.”

A copy of the cover letter was in the attic folder, and made clear that Mr. Tower’s office was simply passing along Oswald’s plea. “I do not know Mr. Oswald or any of the facts concerning his reasons for visiting the Soviet Union; nor what action, if any, this government can or should take on his behalf,” the letter said.

Mr. Tower is known to have given the file to the Warren Commission for copying, but the originals were considered missing, said Kathryn Stallard, the archivist of the John Tower Library at Southwestern. “We have all been looking for this,” Ms. Stallard said.

EasySale’s chairman and chief executive, David J. Edmondson, said that the house, in the Kalorama section of Washington, had been owned by Mr. Tower’s second wife, Lilla Burt Cummings Tower, a Washington lawyer, who died in 1993. Mr. Edmondson said she and Mr. Tower lived in the house in the early years of the Reagan administration. They divorced in 1987, and two years later, when the first President George Bush nominated Mr. Tower to be secretary of defense, her statements about her former husband’s excessive drinking helped cost him the job. Mr. Tower denied the accusations, but the Senate rejected the nomination.

The issue of Oswald’s return to the United States dogged Mr. Tower after the Warren Commission report was released. The file in the attic contained a letter that Mr. Tower wrote to Secretary of State Dean Rusk in March 1964, as well as Rusk’s reply: “It is not now, and has not in the past been, the position of the State Department that Mr. Oswald was allowed to return to this country as a result of your forwarding to the Department Mr. Oswald’s letter to you.”

Mr. Edmondson described EasySale as “an online consignment company” that picks up items worth at least $50 that people no longer want. “This is certainly unusual,” he said. “This is unusual versus the average things people have laying around their house.”