Monday, June 1, 2020

Solving the Mystery of Oswald’s Seaport Trader Order

How researchers found the source of Oswald’s mail-order coupon

[Graphic: © 2020 Dale K. Myers. All Rights Reserved]


It appears that a cash reward offered back in 1972 is due to a Minnesota researcher and the founder of who together have solved a 57-year-old mystery surrounding the murder Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.

In mid-March, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald ordered a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver from Seaport Traders, Inc., using a coupon [1] clipped from an unidentified magazine. (See: “Oswald’s Mail-Order Revolver Purchase; Critical Allegations Prove False” for everything about the purchase.)

Although the revolver was taken from Oswald’s hand at the Texas Theater upon his arrest on November 22, 1963, and later was proven to have fired the .38 caliber shells discarded at the Tippit shooting scene, the source of the clipped coupon Oswald used to order the pistol was never determined.

Cash reward

While it’s a minor point in the big scheme of things, the mystery so intrigued Robert P. Smith, director of the “Committee to Investigate Assassinations”, that in 1972 he offered a cash reward of $25 dollars to anyone who could send him “a bona fide specimen of the publication containing an ad just like” Oswald’s mail-order coupon; or, if a specimen wasn’t available, $10 dollars to the first person who could identify the publication by name, address of the publisher, and date of issue. [2]

Fig.1 - Smith's 1972 letter announcing a cash reward for the source of the Seaport Trader coupon.

Smith wrote in his cash reward letter that “neither the Warren Commission nor any investigative agency has ever been able to identify the specific publication from which this coupon was clipped. The mail order house involved, Seaport Traders, Inc., was unable to identify it in 1964, and it is no longer in business under that name.” [3]

Actually, there is no evidence that anyone ever really looked for the source of the coupon.

H.W. Michaelis, the office manager of George Rose and Company, Inc., Los Angeles, CA., told the FBI in December, 1963, that Seaport Traders, Inc., was the mail-order name of George Rose and Company, and that the coupon Oswald used to order the .38 caliber revolver (Michaelis retrieved the original coupon mailed by Oswald from his files and gave it to the FBI) had been “clipped from a publication, which he could not identify”. [4]

There is no evidence that the FBI (or any other investigative agency, as Smith wrote in 1972) pursued the source of the clipped coupon beyond what Michaelis told them.


To facilitate the search, Smith offered clues for would-be treasure hunters. Smith reported that the original coupon, housed at the National Archives, was printed on “newsprint paper (light-weight, non-glossy), which eliminates most gun, hunting, and sports magazines as possible places where the ad might have been published and suggests a weekly or bi-weekly publication such as Shotgun News or possibly a detective or humor type of magazine on pulp paper. There is a portion of a cartoon on the reverse side (see copy).” [5]

Smith further noted that “in the company address on the front of the coupon, there is a department number, ‘AM-3’ (see copy). If this follows the usual advertising practice, the symbol ‘AM-3’ would signify that the name of the publication had the initials (or abbreviation) ‘A__ M__’, and that the specific issue was the third one of that year, e.g., March in the case of a monthly publication.” [6]

Smith warned that the re-use of previously published advertisements didn’t guarantee that any of this was true, or even that the publication date was in 1963. [7]

“I have spent many hours attempting to identify this publication without success,” Smith wrote. “Nevertheless, I am confident that it does exist (although it may no longer be published) and can be found.” [8]

Smith then offered “a $25 reward to the first person (as determined by the postmark on the envelope) who sends me a bona fide specimen of the publication containing an ad just like the one from which the attached coupon was taken.” [9]

Fig.2 - Smith's attachment showing Oswald's coupon (left) and the cartoon fragment on the back (right).

The announcement letter attachment contained a Xerox enlargement of the Seaport Trader coupon (Oswald used to order the revolver) and an “actual size” Xerox copy of the reverse side of the coupon, depicting a portion of a cartoon with the partial phrase: “Happy anniversary, …”. [10]

Flash forward

In June 2018 – 46 years after Smith made his offer – San Antonio, Texas researcher Steve Roe began a search for the Seaport Traders ad publication.

“My interest was initiated by that 1972 reward announcement,” Roe said. “I also thought that the answer to the Seaport Trader ad might possibly resolve another mystery – where Oswald purchased ammunition for the rifle and the pistol. I was thinking that perhaps there was another advertisement in the same magazine that sold 6.5 mm and .38 Special ammunition.” [11]

Roe began searching firearm magazines – American Rifleman, Guns, Guns and Ammo, and Field and Stream. Then he turned to other publications such as Popular Mechanics, Leatherneck (a USMC magazine), and Airman (a USAF magazine); then into various pulp magazines. It was an on-and-off search, literally for hours at a time, viewing PDF scans on Internet Archive and others.

“I got frustrated because the ‘AM-3’ designation wasn’t making any sense in the search results,” Roe explained. [12] 

After nearly a year of solo efforts, Orlando, Florida researcher Sean R. DeGrilla (author of “Malcontent: Lee Harvey Oswald’s Confession by Conduct”) joined the search.

DeGrilla began scouring back issues of Argosy, Action for Men, All Man, Archery Magazine, and American Rifleman. Since Oswald dated the Seaport Trader coupon ‘1/27 (no year)’, DeGrilla also began checking 1962 back issues. Their efforts proved tedious and frustrating. [13]

“Just as my interest in the Seaport Trader ad began to wane, an April 18, 2020, posting on the Facebook group ‘JFK: Truth Be Told’ re-lit my desire to find the elusive publication,” Steve Roe said. [14]

Minnesota researcher Chris R. Simondet also spotted the same Facebook posting and offered to help Roe and DeGrilla. This turned out to be the key.

Simondet sent out an eBay inquiry on April 18, 2020, and one-month later found what they had all been looking for.

The twists and turns in Simondet’s efforts read like a pulp-novel themselves and, in this authors eyes, show just how important diligence and perseverance are in solving any cold case mystery.

Anatomy of an investigation

“Our first avenue was a brute-force strategy of messaging eBay sellers for magazines starting with ‘A’ from March 1962 and March 1963,” Simondet recalled. “At the time we were working under the assumption that the ‘AM-3’ code, noted on the coupon, was applied consistently as the magazine’s title and month.

“While we were awaiting replies, we went to see what Seaport Trader ads we could find in various archives and websites. I started compiling a list of codes printed in the ads we found:
  • Popular Science - PS
  • American Legion Magazine - AL
  • Guns Magazine - G and GM
  • Bakersfield Californian - BC
  • Railroad Magazine - AM and AG
  • Electronics Illustrated - EI
  • Field and Stream - FS
  • American Rifleman – ARD
“The breakthrough came by finding a few copies of Railroad magazine from 1959. First, in February, the codes AG-12 and AG-2 appeared in the same issue – Feb. 1959. Then, in the June issue, I found the code: ‘AM-6’.” [15]

Fig.3 - February 1959 Railroad magazine advertisement using the 'AG-12' code.

Fig.4 - February 1959 Railroad magazine advertisement using the 'AG-2' code.

Fig.5 - June 1959 Railroad magazine advertisement using the 'AM-6' code.

Simondet told me that he began to focus on issues of Railroad from 1962 and 1963.

“At first, I bought a few likely candidates from a seller who happened to have most of the issues from this period,” Simondet said. “The December 1962 and February 1963 issues turned up nothing. I also bought the June 1962 issue, which I thought might correspond to the ‘-3’ designator as it was the third issue of the year, being on a bi-monthly release schedule. Same story.

“At that point, I contacted the seller, Karen Stephans, of Stephans Railroad History, to see if she would be able to find a Seaport Traders ad in any of the 1962 or 1963 issues. I will be forever grateful to her, as she found one in the April 1963 issue, which by great luck, matched exactly the known Oswald coupon, down to the tiny printing defects.

“Unfortunately, there was no cartoon on the back (like the Oswald coupon) – so, I had the right ad, but the wrong publication.

“I began researching what other magazines the publisher had released. I found two associated outfits, Popular Publications, Inc. and New Publications, Inc., which published Adventure magazine. I immediately zeroed in on this magazine as the possible origin of the code ‘AM’, but after seeing the ad in Railroad with the code, knew it could be in any of their magazines.

“Fortunately, I only found four active publications associated with them in the Catalog of Copyright Entries of Periodicals from 1962 and 1963: Railroad, Adventure, Argosy, and True Adventures. [16]

Fig.6 - 1962 Catalog of Copyright Entries of Periodicals showing listings for New Publications, Inc.

“I easily eliminated Argosy, as I was able to get a bound copy of their issues from the first half of 1963. After that, I went after Adventure and True Adventures for February and April of 1963 (both bi-monthly). I was only able to get a copy of the February 1963 issue of Adventure. No dice.” [17]

In addition to these efforts, Simondet was emailing a number of pulp collectors, eBay sellers, and comic book shops carrying pulp magazines. Still, no luck.

Pay dirt

While there are some who believe in the magical properties of ‘luck’, this writer has always understood ‘luck’ to stand for: ‘Laboring Under Correct Knowledge”. In short, hard work, backed by reason and logic, usually (but not always) wins the day.

For Simondet and crew, pay day was nearly upon them.

“I happened upon the Facebook group ‘Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books’,” Simondet explained, “and posted an appeal for the three issues I hadn’t gotten yet. The moderator of the Facebook group, and founder of, Robert “Bob” Deis, replied that he had all three.

Simondet sent Deis the ad which he’d found in Railroad - a closeup of the coupon, and an image of the cartoon fragment on the reverse side. 

Bingo! Bob found the ad in both Adventure and True Adventures magazines from 1963. The version with the cartoon on the reverse side of the coupon (as was the case in the coupon Oswald used) was printed in the April 1963 issue (Vol.32, No.3) of True Adventures .

Fig.7 - Cover of the April 1963 issue (Vol.32, No.3) of True Adventures magazine.

Fig.8 - Page 13 of the April 1963 issue (Vol.32, No.3) of True Adventures magazine.

Fig.9 - Page 14 of the April 1963 issue (Vol.32, No.3) of True Adventures magazine.

Fig.10 - Detail of page 14 ad showing Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver purchased by Oswald.

Fig.11 - Detail of page 14 coupon (left) and coupon used by Oswald (right).

“Without Bob Deis, I think this process could’ve taken a couple of years, considering how rarely these issues come up for sale,” Chris Simondet told me. “I will be forever grateful to him.” [18]

Mystery solved

So, now we know for certain that Oswald purchased the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle and the Smith & Wesson revolver at about the same time – probably the same day.

The rifle was ordered on March 12, 1963 (as evidenced by the money-order that was purchased that date and which Oswald included with the order coupon). Klein’s Sporting Goods received the rifle order in the mail the next day, March 13, 1963.

Seaport Traders also received Oswald’s mail-order for the .38 caliber revolver on March 13, 1963 – a very strong suggestion that Oswald mailed both orders the previous day – March 12.

Fig.12 - Xerox copy of the front and back of the Oswald coupon (CE 790), as submitted by Robert P. Smith (top), and the front and back of the coupon clipped from the April 1963 (Vol.32, No.3) issue of True Adventures magazine (bottom), demonstrating the pedigree of the coupon used by Oswald to order the .38 caliber revolver he had in his hand when he was arrested in the Texas Theater.

One might question how Oswald was able to use a mail-order coupon from the April 1963 issue of True Adventures magazine in mid-March. The answer is simple: most monthly magazines hit newsstands the month prior to the dated publication.

In fact, Chris Simondet was able to determine from the Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries that the February through June 1963 issues of True Adventures magazine were copyrighted long before publication. [19] Here’s what he found:

True Adventures © New Publications, Inc.

Vol. 32, No.2, February 1963 © 4 Dec 1962; B16344
Vol. 32, No.3, April 1963 © 5 Feb 1963; B23227
Vol.32, No.4, June 1963 © 4 April 1963; B32224

The above listing shows that the content of the April 1963 issue had already been locked by February 5, 1963; and therefore, could easily have been printed and on store shelves by mid-March.

Why Oswald used a date of ‘1/27 (no year)’ for the order is puzzling. Perhaps, he hoped to rush the order by back-dating the coupon. Whatever the reason, we now know that the coupon he used came from an issue that had only become available to him at about the time he mailed the order – mid-March, 1963.

Cash out

Where and when Oswald acquired the April 1963 True Adventures magazine (or whether he simply tore the corner of the Seaport Traders ad from a store shelf copy of True Adventures and slipped it into his pocket) will likely never be known.

But there can be little speculation about who deserves the cash reward offered by Robert P. Smith back in 1972. Although a copy of the actual ad is not available to collect the $25 dollar reward; the images obtained from Bob Deis (which are included in this article), as well as the documentation contained herein, should more than fulfill the requirements attached to Smith’s lesser $10 dollar offer.

By the way, the current cash value of that reward (given inflation) is $61.34. [END]



[1] National Archives (NARA), Record Group 272, Warren Commission Exhibit (CE) 790, 17H678

[2] Cash reward announcement letter, dated July 22, 1972, from Robert P. Smith, 927 15th St., NW, #409, Washington, D.C., 20005, p.1 (FBI 62-109060 JFK HQ File Section 176, p.108)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Commission Document (CD) 7 – FBI – Robert P. Gemberling Report of December 10, 1963, p.229-231

[5] op. cit., Smith letter, p.1

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cash reward announcement attachment, from Robert P. Smith, 927 15th St., NW, #409, Washington, D.C., 20005 (FBI 62-109060 JFK HQ File Section 176, p.107

[11] Email, Steve Roe to author, May 26, 2020, p.1

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Facebook group, JFK: Truth Be Told, Tim Nickerson, April 18, 2020

[15] Email, Chris Simondet to author, May 25, 2020, p.1

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Catalog of Copyright Entries, 3rd Series, Vol.16, Part 2, No.1, January-June 1962, Claimant Index, (New Publications, Inc.) p.245; Catalog of Copyright Entries, 3rd Series, Vol.17, Part 2, No.1, January-June 1963, Claimant Index, (Popular Publications, Inc.) p.240