Monday, June 13, 2011

Retired FBI Agent, James P. Hosty, Jr., dead at 86

by BILLY COX / Herald-Tribune

Less than two weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, an agitated Lee Harvey Oswald entered the FBI's office in Dallas and delivered an ultimatum to agent James P. Hosty, Jr.

The visit led to a government cover-up that further complicated one of the darkest chapters in American history.

Hosty, who retired in Punta Gorda and subsequently fought for decades to salvage his reputation, passed away Friday at age 86 in Kansas City, Mo., following a brief bout with cancer.

In his 1996 memoir Assignment: Oswald, the counter-espionage agent attempted to set the record straight by taking aim at former FBI director-for-life J. Edgar Hoover: "I ... came to understand that one of our jobs was to protect the Bureau's image at all costs, even if it ran roughshod over individuals or principals."

Working at the FBI station in Dallas, in October 1963 Hosty was directed to keep tabs on Oswald, the former Marine who defected to Russia, only to return in 1962. Hosty began making queries and focused largely on Oswald's Russian-born wife, Marina.

On Nov. 12, 1963, Oswald visited the FBI office and left a terse handwritten note to Hosty, who was in the field at the time. It reportedly stated: "If you have anything you want to learn about me, come talk to me directly. If you don't cease bothering my wife, I will take appropriate action and report this to the proper authorities."

James Hosty's son, Tom, who helped his father write his memoirs, said his dad was juggling 40 cases at the time. Tom Hosty said his father's top priority was to assess Oswald's potential as a broader national security threat.

But following the sniper assassination at Dealey Plaza, the FBI was thrown into turmoil.

James Hosty had his first and only meeting with Oswald during Oswald's initial interrogation by members of the Dallas Police Department. Hosty wrote two pages of handwritten notes during the Oswald interrogation. Oswald was shot dead by Jack Ruby on Nov. 24, 1963.

Hosty's name and number were discovered in Oswald's address book. Looking to assuage Hoover's fears that Oswald might have been an FBI informant, Hosty's supervisor, Gordon Shanklin, ordered Hosty to destroy the note Oswald left him.

Hosty was temporarily suspended from duty when the truth came out during congressional hearings about his having misled the Warren Commission. But Hosty remained with the FBI until he reached mandatory retirement age in 1979.

Tom Hosty said he and his father decided to tell his story in a book following Oliver Stone's "JFK" docu-drama in 1991. Stone portrayed Hosty as Oswald's handler in a conspiracy frame-up.

"Dad laid it all out there," said Tom Hosty from Indianapolis. "He was determined to get the truth out. It was a very positive thing; he felt he could rest at peace."

A World War II veteran and 1948 graduate of Notre Dame, the Chicago native was with the U.S. Army as it liberated the emaciated survivors of the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. In 1990, he and his late wife Janet moved to Punta Gorda, where he was an avid consumer of history books and CNN newscasts in retirement.

He lived in Florida until February, when his family brought him back to Kansas for hospice care. Hosty's funeral will be in Roeland Park, Kansas, on Saturday. Hosty had nine children, 22 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

Source: Herald-Tribune / Sarasota, Florida

[Editor’s Note: I had the great pleasure to interview Mr. Hosty at length in 1996. I found him refreshingly candid, knowledgeable, and extremely helpful. He was an invaluable resource for my own work and many others. His first-hand knowledge, experience, and insight into one of the darkest days in American history will be sorely missed. Goodnight, Jim.]


Rob Weingartner said...

I read James Hosty's book several years ago, and must say I am sad to hear about his passing.

I happen to be in the minority about Oswald acting alone in the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Personally, I found James Hosty's book, Assignment Oswald, to be one of the best books I've read on the assassination, and found Mr. Hosty to be very honest and truthful in his account of what transpired, regardless of what all the gum-shoe detectives say.

Paul C. said...

Agent Hosty always came across as honorable and honest about his important role in the case. I haven't read his book yet, but I'll get to it.