The FBI man who could have saved Kennedy
Published 06/08/2011 | 05:00
James P Hosty may have just died aged 86 -- but his name will live on in the legend of the JFK assassination conspiracy. Just weeks before the Dallas shooting FBI agent Hosty received a case file for a suspicious character called Lee Harvey Oswald.
An ex-US marine who had just returned from Russia with his Soviet bride, Oswald hardly looked like a threat to national security. He was known to the FBI as a communist and a heavy drinker, but was suspected of low-level espionage at most and wasn't a priority case.
Hosty paid two visits to Oswald's house, but on both occasions he was out. In fact, Hosty later received a letter from Oswald demanding that he and his FBI men stop visiting his house and harassing his wife, an event that would come back to haunt him later on.
However, Hosty and his fellow FBI agents did discover one important piece of information during their research -- that Oswald was an employee of the Texas School Book Depository, which overlooked the route that the presidential motorcade would take through Dallas. It was a piece of information that they failed to act on.
As John F Kennedy waved to the cheering crowds on November 22, 1963, Hosty was among them, unaware that Oswald was armed and lying in wait in the Book Depository. According to a source the FBI operative was desperate to "catch a glimpse of Kennedy".
After seeing JFK, Hosty went to a nearby diner for some lunch, while the US president drove straight into the sights of Oswald's rifle. A waitress informed him that shots had been fired and Hosty hurried back to the office.
Within a few hours Hosty finally met Oswald for the first time. In room 317 of the Dallas Police Department, Hosty and four others interrogated the "cocky, defiant and argumentative" Oswald. They had no chance to question him any further as two days later, while he was being transferred to county jail, Oswald was shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
On the morning of November 24, Ruby parked his car a short distance from the Dallas police department, leaving his favourite dog in the back seat. He had been spotted in the corridors of the department over the previous few days, posing as a reporter.
In a moment captured on national television, Ruby approached Oswald and shot him in the stomach, fatally wounding him.
Lyndon B Johnson set up the Warren Commission in 1963 to investigate Kennedy's assassination and Hosty was among 12 agents who were reprimanded for "investigative improprieties". However, it was not until 1975 that Hosty became infamous.
Testifying before Congress, he admitted that he had received the letter from Oswald -- accusing the FBI of harassment -- in the weeks before the assassination and to destroying it on the day that Oswald was killed. Hosty claimed that his superior J Gordon Shanklin ordered him to get rid of the letter, an allegation that Shanklin denied.
Hosty was also embroiled in a scandal involving Oswald's address book. His name and phone number appeared in the book -- but the FBI agents taking an inventory of Oswald's belongings failed to report that Hosty's details were present.
Hosty became a symbol of the FBI's lack of credibility. He was immortalised in Oliver Stone's film JFK, being portrayed as a central figure in a group of government agents who had the president killed and framed Oswald for the crime.
Hosty released his memoirs in 1995 to "set the record straight". His son Thomas said he granted interviews to everyone that approached him -- even the ones who had some conspiracy agenda.
"He figured if these people met him they would see who he was -- a straight arrow ... being portrayed as part of a plot to kill the president, it was just so hurtful to him."
Having had a previously impressive career, fighting in World War Two and being involved in the liberation of the concentration camps, Hosty could not understand why people were so quick to doubt his character.
In his book Hosty acknowledged there had been mistakes, but that they were largely made on the part of FBI officials, who allowed the situation to escalate until it was out of control.
He argued that the FBI made him a scapegoat for their errors. Unfortunately, he died a man still embroiled in the scandal of one of the most controversial events of the last century.