Did Oswald Have a Cellmate? The Elrod Story Was John Erlod Lee Oswald's Cellmate

Could Elrod Be Telling the Truth?

Did Oswald Have a Cellmate?

By Russ Burr

In 1995 I first read "Oswald Talked", by Ray and Mary LaFontaine. Myriad questions stemming from my first reading splintered off into more questions surrounding the La Fontaine's stimulatingly controversial book. One point in dispute, the cornerstone theme throughout "Oswald Talked", became a major focus of my questioning : did Lee Harvey Oswald in fact have the opportunity to be in or near a cell with John Elrod on Friday, November 22, 1963? The LaFontaines have chronicled evidence supporting this claim in "Oswald Talked". Research I have done and interviews I have conducted counter (some of) their evidence supporting this claim. What follows is the evidence I have gathered disputing the LaFontaine's precept that Lee Harvey Oswald contact with John Elrod while being held in the fifth floor jail cell at the Dallas Police Department on the fourth Friday in November, 1963.

In a recent discussion on the internet newsgroup alt.assassination.jfk, I posed the following questions:

  1. Has any Dallas police officer, living or dead, ever stated that Oswald spent time in a cell with another incarcerated individual while being held at the Dallas Police Department jail on the third Friday in November, 1963?
  2. Has any Dallas police officer, living or dead, ever stated that Oswald was in the same cell as Elrod?
  3. Who besides Elrod claims he was in the cell with Oswald?
In the process of trying to answer these questions, I developed a chronology of Oswald's movements beginning at approximately 2 PM on 11/22/63 when he entered the Dallas Police jail, until 12:05 AM on 11/23/63, at which time he allegedly was placed in his cell. I have based this chronology on statements made to me by Jim Ewell, Public Information Officer for the Dallas Sheriff's Department. Mr. Ewell was the Dallas Morning News reporter who covered the Homicide Office of the DPD during the time of the assassination. Consequently, he wrote most of the lead stories covering assassination for the Dallas Morning News. Mr. Ewell worked at the Dallas Morning News from 1955 to 1981: understandably, the operations of the Homicide and Robbery Division of the Dallas Police Department were quite familiar to Mr. Ewell based on his lengthy, on-the-job experience there.

Mr. Ewell was good enough to get me in touch with James Leavelle, former Dallas Police officer who worked in the Homicide and Robbery Division and who played a part in the Tippit investigation and also the investigation of the death of the President. He had the tragic experience of being handcuffed to Oswald when Ruby shot Oswald. Mr. Leavelle was gracious enough to allow me to interview him on the phone twice.

This chronology is also based on excerpts from the Warren Commission Report and the Warren Commission testimony of Capt. Fritz and Sgt. James Leavelle as well as James Hosty's observations from his book, Assignment Oswald.

These series of events at the Dallas Police Headquarters were developed to see if it was conceivable that Elrod was in a cell (or within talking distance) with Lee Harvey Oswald.

In a previous post Mr. Ewell had shared with me that it was common practice to bring homicide suspects immediately to the Homicide Officer on the 3rd floor. And that is where Oswald went upon his arrival at police headquarters around 2PM.


Mr. BALL. Where was Oswald being kept before you got there, what room was Oswald in?
Mr. FRITZ. When I got there he was in the front interrogation room at the end of the little hall.
Mr. BAll. Here is a map or a diagram drawn by Chief Curry. It is Commission Exhibit 701. Take a look at this, is that a diagram of the floor?
Mr. FRITZ. This would be my office right here.
Mr. BALL. That would be the entry to the homicide and robbery?
Mr. FRITZ. Homicide and robbery bureau.
Mr. BALL. This is your office?
Mr. FRITZ. My office opens right here.
Mr. BALL. Off of the hall?
Mr. FRITZ. Yes, sir.

At around 3PM Special Agent Hosty arrived to join Fritz, Bookhout and others in the interrogation. Based on Hosty's timetable Oswald left the office at 4:05PM for the first lineup which was conducted at 4:45PM. It was at this lineup that Helen Markam identified Oswald. Mr. Leavelle, present at the lineup, stated that though Markham appeared shaken during questioning, she was very certain in identifying Oswald as Tippit's murderer.

In his book, Assignment Oswald, Hosty sees Oswald being questioned in Fritz's office at 5:30PM. In his testimony to the WC Capt. Fritz stated:

Mr. BALL. At 6:30 you had another showup, at which time McWatters, Guinyard, and Callaway--do you remember those witnesses? Callaway is the car salesman, and Sam Guinyard is the porter at the used-car lot at the corner of Patton and Jefferson, and McWatters is a cabdriver--no; is a busdriver.
Mr. FRITZ. We have the names; if those names are right, that is true. At that time on this showup we put some officers up on the stage with him; officers stayed on the stage with him during the showup.
Mr. BALL. I point that time out as 6:30 because it appears that you started to question Oswald after you had the Markham showup sometime after 4:35, 4:40, 4:45. Did you question him steadily from then until 6:30, the time of the second showup?
Mr. FRITZ. I don't--I don't believe there was any time when I went through a very long period without having to step to the door, or step outside, to get a report from some pair of officers, or to give them additional assignments.
Mr. BALL. Where did you keep him; in what room?
Mr. FRITZ. In my office there.
Mr. BALL. He was in your office all the time?
Mr. FRITZ. Yes, sir; within there.
Mr. BALL. Between the two showups at 4:35 and 6:30, he was in your office all the time?
Mr. FRITZ. Well, I believe he was there all that time; let's see, 4:30 to 6:30; I don't remember him being carried out there any time.
Based upon this interchange between Ball and Fritz, it is reasonably safe to ascertain that Oswald was in Fritz's office and participated in two lineups from the time he was brought in at 2PM, til 6:30 PM. We take up Fritz's testimony:
Mr. BALL. They were you were more or less continuously questioning through the afternoon, were you?
Mr. FRITZ. Yes, sir.
Mr. BALL. Now, at 7:10, he was arraigned in your office?
Mr. FRITZ. Yes, sir.
Mr. BALL. By arraign you mean he was informed of the charge against him?
Mr. FRITZ. That is right.
Mr. BALL. He wasn't asked to plea.
Mr. FRITZ. Before a judge, before a justice of the peace, a magistrate.
In the LaFontaine's book, Oswald Talked, it is noted that Lt. Thurber Lord observed Oswald alone in his cell at 6:30 PM. However, based on Fritz's testimony, Oswald was in his second lineup at 6:30. Based on Lt. Lord's observation of Oswald alone in his cell at 6:30 PM, the LaFontaines support Elrod's claim that Oswald was moved to another cell sometime during the afternoon of the 22nd.

Back to Fritz's testimony:

Mr. BALL. Then your records show another showup at 7:50?
Mr. FRITZ. At what time?
Mr. BALL. 7:50, that is the third showup. Mrs. Davis----
Mr. FRITZ. That would be showup No. 3.
Mr. BALL. That is showup No. 3.
Mr. FRITZ. Showup No. 3 was held for Barbara Jean Davis.
Mr. BALL. And Virginia Davis.
Mr. FRITZ. Virginia Davis.
Mr. BALL. Now, during the evening, did you question him some more?
Mr. FRITZ. Well, I am sure that I did. Let me see.
Mr. BALL. It shows he was fingerprinted at 8:55.
Mr. FRITZ. I probably talked to him a little bit more after that. was fingerprinted at what time?
Mr. BALL. 8:55. Or 9 o'clock, around 9 o'clock. Fingerprinted, at that time there was a paraffin test of the hands and face.
Mr. FRITZ. I don't believe he was fingerprinted. I think we made the paraffin test in my office.
Mr. BALL. There was a paraffin test.
Mr. FRITZ. I allowed them to use my office right there to make a paraffin test.
Mr. BALL. And your records show he was fingerprinted there, too.
Mr. FRITZ. It is possible, I didn't stay there with him. He could have. I don't think they fingerprinted him at that time. I wouldn't see any need for it.
and finally:
Mr. BALL. Later that night you took him down to the showuproom again, didn't you, when you had a press interview?
Mr. FRITZ. No, sir; I didn't have a press conference.
Mr. BALL. You didn't?
Mr. FRITZ. No.
Mr. BALL. Did you give any instructions to the press conference?
Mr. FRITZ. Yes, sir; the chief told me he wanted him brought down for a press conference, and I told my officers to take them down and I asked the chief to let me put it on the stage. I was a little bit afraid something might happen to him in front of that stage, someone in the crowd might hurt him but he said no, he wanted him out there in the front, and I told him I would like to put him on the stage so that the officers could jerk him inside the Jail office if anything happened but he said no, he wanted him in front, so I told the officers to take him down.
   I went down later to see how everything was going but I couldn't get in. The crowd had jammed clear back out into the hall.
Mr. BALL. Do you know what time you sent him up to the jail?
Mr. FRITZ. I have it here, I think--12:05; yes, sir.
Mr. BALL. 12:05?
Mr. FRITZ. Yes, sir.
It appears that Oswald never made it to a jail cell until 12:05 AM the next day. However, this conflicts with phone records that have Oswald making a call from cell F2 during the 3 to 11 shift that was pointed out by the LaFontaines.

However in my second phone interview with Mr. Leavelle he stated that it was common for suspects being held to already have their cell number assigned and it therefore was conceivable that Oswald could have made a call during the 3rd Platoon (3-11 p.m.) and had it recorded on the Prisoner Telephone Contact Form without ever having been in cell F-2.

In my first interview with James Leavelle he confirmed the operating procedure that Ewell spoke of for the Homicide Division, ie., suspects were generally always brought to the Homicide Office. Leavelle confirmed Fritz's testimony that Oswald was brought immediately to Fritz's office in the Homicide Division. Leavelle dealt directly with the first two lineups, one at 4:45 the other at 6:30. He stated that he assumed that Oswald was in Fritz's office all of the afternoon and evening. He doubted but didn't know whether Oswald could have been placed in a cell prior to 12:05 AM the 23rd.

But Leavelle also said that Oswald was always isolated while in jail. Always. He furthur stated that Oswald had an armed guard in front of his cell at all times. He said he was on the fifth floor jail in a area away from the other cells. He was placed in an seclusion area that contained 3 cells. He was placed in the middle. He said there was no way to even see the cell from the main hallway of the 5th floor jail. He stated that there were no other prisoners in the other two cells. In fact, he stated that it wouldn't have mattered because there was no way for one cellmate to have talked to the another cellmate due to how the cells were designed. Leavelle, in fact, supplied a diagram of the cell layout, showing the isolation of cell F-2.

Leavelle was certain of the fact that Oswald was always isolated while in his cell, particularly given the nature of this *high-profile* case. He said Oswald was suspected of having a possible hand in the President's murder by the time Fritz had arrived fron the TSBD (around 2:15 based on Fritz's testimony) and therefore the DPD took special precautions for him.

I finally asked him if the LaFontaine's had ever interviewed him. He said no.

Though it is always conceivable that Oswald, could for a time been in a jail cell with someone else, the chronology and testimonies and statements presented makes it highly unlikely.

It sounds like Elrod was either mistaken about his cellmate or was telling tales.

In conclusion I present a excerpt from the Warren Commission Report that summarizes Oswald's movements that day and that seem to cut to the heart of the issue:


The policemen who seized Oswald at the Texas Theatre arrived with him at the police department building at about 2 p.m. and brought him immediately to the third floor offices of the homicide and robbery bureau to await the arrival of Captain Fritz from the Texas School Book Depository. After about 15 or 20 minutes Oswald was ushered into the office of Captain Fritz for the first of several interrogation sessions. At 4:05 p.m. he was taken to the basement assembly room for his first lineup. While waiting outside the lineup room, Oswald was searched, and five cartridges and other items were removed from his pockets. After the lineup, at about 4:20, Oswald was returned to Captain Fritz' office for further questioning. Two hours later, at 6:20 p.m., Oswald was taken downstairs for a second lineup and returned to Captain Fritz' office within 15 minutes for additional interrogation. Shortly after 7 p.m., Captain Fritz signed a complaint charging Oswald with the murder of Patrolman Tippit. Oswald was formally arraigned, i.e., advised of the charges, at 7:10 p.m., before Justice of the Peace David L. Johnston, who came to Captain office for the occasion.

After a third lineup at about 7:40 p.m., Oswald was returned to Fritz' office. About. an hour later, after further questioning, Oswald's fingerprints and palmprints were taken and a paraffin test (see app. XI) administered in Fritz' office, after which the questioning resumed. At 11:26 p.m. Fritz signed the complaint charging Oswald with the murder of President Kennedy. Shortly after midnight, detectives took Oswald to the basement assembly room for an appearance of several minutes before members of the press. At about 12:20 a.m. Oswald was delivered to the jailer who placed him in a maximum security cell on the fifth floor. His cell was the center one in a block of three cells that were separated from the remainder of the jail area. The cells on either side of Oswald were empty and a guard was nearby whenever Oswald was present. Shortly after 1:30 a.m. Oswald was brought to the identification bureau on the fourth floor and arraigned before Justice of the Peace Johnston, this time for the murder President Kennedy. (page 198)

This seems to fit very nicely with the what Leavelle told me as well as the testimony of Capt. Fritz. Despite the many questions concerning the reliability and validity of the Warren Commission Report it appears that the chronology stated above accurately reflects what happened on 11/22/63. So did Oswald talk? It seems unlikely. It seems more likely that Mr. Elrod talked to someone else that tied Ruby to the gunrunning schemes that were occuring in Dallas that summer and fall.

Russ Burr

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