The recent return of Clint Hill to his hometown of Washburn got me thinking about the people who had lived in North Dakota who were associated with the events involving President Kennedy’s assassination and the controversy surrounding it.
Three key figures were Hill, Pierre Salinger, and Robert Bahmer. There also was the rumor that the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, also had lived in this state.
Hill was the Secret Service agent who jumped on the back of the convertible carrying the president and first lady and shielded them with his body seconds after Kennedy was shot. He was born on the Fort Berthold Reservation in 1932 and, following his adoption by Chris and Jennie Hill, moved to Washburn.
In high school, Hill excelled in music and athletics. At Concordia College Hill starred in both baseball and football. Following graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
In 1958, Hill entered the Secret Service and was assigned to protect Mrs. Elivera Doud, the mother-in-law of President Eisenhower. When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president in 1961, Hill was given the task of guarding Jacqueline Kennedy.
On that fateful day, Nove. 22, 1963, in Dallas, Hill was riding in a car directly behind the president’s limousine when the shooting occurred. Hill immediately jumped from his car and raced to the back of the president’s limo, grabbing Mrs. Kennedy, who had climbed onto the back of the vehicle. He put her back in her seat and crawled on top of both Kennedys to shield them from any further harm.
Hill was later given a special award for “Extraordinary courage and heroic effort in the face of maximum danger.” However, nearly 50 years later, he continues to blame himself for not being there to take the fatal bullet that killed the president, despite the fact that there is no way he could have done that.
Salinger, the president’s press secretary, was Pierre Salinger, attended the Navy officers training program at Dickinson State Teachers College in 1943 and 1944. Although Salinger was not with the president in Dallas, he continued as press secretary for Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson.
Rumors swirled that the assassination was a conspiracy, and Johnson established a commission chaired by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren to investigate Kennedy’s death. On Sept. 24, 1964, the Warren Commission filed an 888-page report concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president and that Jack Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald. Most of the evidence used by the commission was turned over to the National Archives.
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A key portion of evidence not in direct control of the Archives directors was the autopsy materials, which were in possession of Robert Kennedy, the late president’s brother.
On April 26, 1965, Robert Kennedy had those materials transferred to Evelyn Lincoln for safekeeping at the National Archives. A stainless steel container that held the late president’s brain was part of the inventory of materials in Lincoln’s possession.
Robert Bahmer, the U.S. Archivist, was born and raised on a farm in southeastern Bottineau County. On Oct. 31, 1966, he opened the footlocker containing the materials that had been in Lincoln’s possession. What he discovered was that Kennedy’s brain, along with 84 slides, tissue samples, and blood smears, were missing. People who believed a conspiracy had occurred involving Kennedy’s assassination pointed to this as evidence of a cover-up.
A couple of the rumors that persisted after the assassination had North Dakota ties. The one that received the most publicity was that Lee Harvey Oswald and his mother lived in Stanley in the mid-1950s. This received its origin when Alma Cole wrote a letter to Johnson on Dec. 11, 1963.
At the time, Cole was living in Yuma, Ariz., but was a resident of Stanley in the 1950s. She wrote that her son, William Timmer, was a friend of Oswald, and that Oswald boasted that one day he would kill the president of the U.S. Johnson immediately turned the letter over to the FBI, and they launched an investigation. Under questioning, both Cole and Timmer stuck to the story that they knew Oswald in Stanley. However, other people that they named who supposedly had met Oswald, or his mother, appeared to be hazy about their recollection or denied ever meeting them.
The other rumor involved movie and television actress Karyn Kupcinet. Although Karyn never lived in North Dakota, her father, Irv Kupcinet, had been an outstanding football player for the University of North Dakota in the early 1930s.
According to an article printed in the Chicago Daily News, Karyn Kupcinet made a frantic call on Nov. 22 declaring “The president is going to be killed.” Twenty minutes later, Kennedy was shot. Six days later, Karyn Kupcinet’s body was found in her Hollywood apartment, the victim of strangulation.
In 1967, William Penn Jones released the first of his “Forgive My Grief” books, in which he wrote that Karyn Kupcinet learned of the assassination plot through Jack Ruby. Jones added that for this reason, she was murdered.
Irv Kupcinet denied that his daughter had any knowledge of an assassination plot. Nevertheless, the rumor persisted, and when Oliver Stone decided to make his 1991 film about the assassination, JFK, Jones was hired as his chief consultant.
(Written by Curt Eriksmoen. Reach Eriksmoen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)