In understanding the attack on President Kennedy in Dallas, it’s important to appreciate that he was known to be at an unusual level of risk for several months before his assassination. That’s a strong statement and I go into the detailed indications for it in Someone Would Have Talked, including the fact that in some respects his actual levels of protection had been increased and that both JFK and his brother were aware of some elements of the primary threat. If nothing else RFK’s first reaction telephone calls on the afternoon of November 22 demonstrate that point.
The threat was known not only to the Secret Service but to the FBI as well; both agencies went to considerable effort to eliminate the record of that threat after the fact – their failure to adequately respond to it would have been disastrous to both of them.
One of the first indications we have of the most active threat comes out of the FBI and relates to President Kennedy’s planned appearance at an Army-Navy football game at Soldier Field in Chicago in October of 1963. Unfortunately the true nature of that threat has been buried in a good deal of JFK myth – myths having to do with Thomas Vallee. Vallee was the subject of one of my very first investigations (I think I ended up with about 400 pages of Secret Service and Chicago police files on him, back in the early days when you had to get it all at the archives and pay page by page). The files were so voluminous because the Secret Service Protective Unit continued to monitor him through 1968, routinely evaluating him.
Based on that the HSCA had done its own investigation of Vallee, although little internet commentary appears to pay attention to their work and findings. At one point I also communicated at some length with his family, who (triggered by the attention given him) had done their own extensive investigation of his movements and activities during 1962/63. I wrote about what I discovered in my first book, with Constance Kritzberg, November Patriots.
In order to get past Vallee, I’ll simply state that most of what appeared on the internet (and in articles) is sensationalized and far from the simple facts. The facts are that he had been discharged from the Marines due to a head injury and psychological issues, that he was out of work and traveling about the country in 1963 following his separation (his family was concerned about him), that his only work skill (learned from his father) was as an itinerant printers assistant and that he ended up in a rooming house in Chicago. It was largely the similarity to Oswald and the Protective Service interest that triggered the extended HSCA inquiry into rumors that Vallee might have had some connection to Lee Oswald.
Vallee did have a strong right wing, anti-communist political bent, and he also had a collection of rifles and ammunition which he carried with him. He was also a “talker”, publicly outspoken in his politics (not uncommon in 1963 or nor now for that matter). In fact he was so outspoken that one day at breakfast (in a bowling alley meal counter no less) he was so vocal that another patron at the counter reported him to the Secret Service.
That report produced a “pretext” call to Vallee’s apartment where the agents interviewed Vallee who admitted that he did own a rifle and appears to have repeated some of his more radical political beliefs to the agents. did find M1 rifles and ammunition. That visit appears to have made Vallee’s landlady nervous and she called the agents office; at her request they made a second visit and found M1 rifles and ammunition in Vallee’s apartment. The Secret Service began to monitor Vallee and also advised the Chicago PD intelligence unit who established surveillance on Vallee.
The morning of the president’s scheduled visit police officers followed Vallee on his way to work and sopped for a minor traffic violation – an improper turn (more likely the stop was to allow an inspection of his vehicle). Vallee and his car were searched and police recovered a hunting knife from the front seat and ammunition from his trunk. There is some confusion in the records which do indicate that he owned an M1 rifle but note that only ammunition was found in the vehicle. He was taken into custody and charged for the traffic violation and for possession of a concealed weapon – the knife. He was booked, held for a time and then released to deal with the charges in court.
Those basic facts are documented and available in his CPD and Secret Service file. However over time, apparently based on the similarities that his profile did match that of Oswald, rumors of links to Oswald began to circulate – including the report that Vallee’s car tag was actually registered (in New York State) to Oswald, that Vallee was one of the three tramps taken into DPD custody on November 22 and that Vallee had been training Cuban exiles in New York state. There also reports of a conspiracy ranging from speculation on a planned motorcade attack from the printing office where he worked to the fact that he had been involved in a conspiracy with the very same CPD police officers who arrested him.
Those stories were so prominent in JFK circles that I spent a great deal of time tracking them down, including finding interviews with the police officers who had arrested him…and their treatment by some JFK researchers.. The HSCA did its own investigation of the reports and rumors relating to Vallee as well as to other known threats to the President (Thomas Eschvarria in Chicago, Abraham Bolden in Chicago and Joseph Milteer in Miami).
For balance, and to illustrate some of the better and non-sensational JFK community work available on Vallee, I would also point to Mark Bridger’s DPUK article which contains some solid background research:
As for myself, following information made available in the later work of the ARRB, my conclusion is that the HSCA had gotten matters right in regard to Vallee (including checking out the Oswald/license tag claim and finding it to be untrue) and in regard to Milteer, but that they had missed something immensely important in regard to the Eschvarria and Bolden’s leads.
Indeed, Bolden’s information might very well have directed them (if they Secret Service and FBI had been willing to cooperate, which they were not – either with the HSCA or ARRB) to the actual roots of the attack in Dallas. If you have read SWHT/2010 you probably see where I’m going with this. However as to how it dovetails with our most current research (and the Wheaton names) you will need to wait for Part 2 of this post.