November 21, 2011

Stephen King imagines interview that actually happened


In his new novel, 11/22/63, Stephen King “employs a time traveler to interview Lee Harvey Oswald’s mysterious associate George De Mohrenschildt since he died of shotgun blast to his head on March 29, 1977,” writes investigative reporter Edward Jay Epstein, but “a time-traveling avatar is unnecessary. I was interviewing De Mohrenschildt the day he died for my book Legend: The Secret World Of Lee Harvey Oswald.”

It’s easy to understand why King might want to invent the interview. After testifying before the Warren Commission about his friendship with Oswald, De Mohrenschildt disappeared to Haiti and refused to speak to the press. That is, until Epstein came calling. In an excerpt from Legend, Epstein details the explosive material he gathered during his interview with De Mohrenschildt, who agreed to sit for four days of interviews for a $4,000 fee. De Mohrenschildt claimed to have CIA connections and, moreover, to have been in touch with the agency about Oswald’s attempted assassination of General Edwin A. Walker.

He said “I spoke to the CIA both before and afterwards. It was what ruined me.” If so, the CIA had in its possession information and a photograph identifying Oswald as a potential assassin some six months before Kennedy came to Dallas. But it was a big “if”—and [there were] serious problems with the story he was now telling. Why had De Mohrenschildt not turned over this evidence to the FBI when he was questioned or to the Warren Commission when he testified? Concealing such evidence could be a crime—especially since it could have shown that De Mohrenschildt and others had prior knowledge about Oswald’s assassination potential. His prior failure to tell the FBI about the photograph even could be construed as a possible obstruction of justice. To be sure, part of his new story fit the established facts. J. Walter Moore was indeed in the CIA’s Domestic Contact Service in Dallas which had responsibility for debriefing returning visitors from the Soviet Union that had potential intelligence of value. And Moore had been in contact with De Mohrenschildt. He had debriefed him in 1958 on his work in Yugoslavia which, according to CIA records, he had disseminated the resulting reports to ten government agencies.

But Epstein was never able to complete his interview—just a few hours after taking a lunch break during the second day of the interview, De Mohrenschildt was dead.

Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.