This is a continuation of my two previous posts on John Caesar Grossi, a minor figure in the JFK assassination who is the subject of a surprising number of FBI files in the JFK Assassination Records Collection (ARC).1My previous posts are here and here
Many documents in these files had extensive postponements; a number were withheld in full. This postponed material was almost all released in 2017. Since ARC postponements and releases have been a focus of this blog, I decided to have a closer look at the Grossi files.
My first post reviewed FBI case file 43-5359, the earliest FBI file on Grossi in the ARC. To conserve my limited brain capacity, I will hereafter call this File 1. File 1 covered “Jack” Grossi’s youth and scams from 1944 (age 16) until 1948 (age 19), when he wound up in federal prison for impersonating a USN gunner.
My second post was an overview of Grossi’s adventures and misadventures from 1948 until 1963, when he left his job as assistant art director at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall, a Dallas based typography firm. This overview was based on my soon-to-be-posted review of case file 88-30913 (see below).
This new post, third in the series, reviews the material on Jack in the FBIHQ file for Lee Harvey Oswald (105-82555). Chronologically, this follows the second post, and part of this note was originally included in post two. I have now moved all the material from the Oswald file here, so that my readers (all two or three of you) don’t have to flip back and forth between two posts.
Unlike File 1, the FBI Oswald files were released long ago. I have more to say about this at the end of the post. Released or not, this material is the reason Jack Grossi’s files were put in the ARC in the first place, so a close look is definitely in order, and as it turns out relevant to Jack’s own story as well.
I originally planned to include in this post a review of FBI case file 88-30913, the second big FBI file on Grossi in the ARC (hereafter File 2). There are good reasons for doing this. File 2 begins almost immediately after the events of the Oswald file and in many places it is closely tied to the same people, locations, and events.
File 2 was also heavily redacted in some places, and the reasons for this are as interesting as the rationale for the numerous redactions in File 1.
The problem is that File 2 is long. So long, it is becoming a challenge for me to review the whole thing, much less the average reader. I have therefore decided to cut the Grossian knot, post the Oswald file material as note 3, and review File 2 in a final fourth note. If your primary interest is in the JFK assassination, and you have no particular interest in Grossi’s colorful life story, you will probably be happy about this. Just read this post and skip the others.
On the other hand, if you are interested in Jack, or you want to know why so much material in his files was withheld for so long, you can join me as we plow through the FBI paper labyrinth, in search of the untamed Jack.
Jack and Lee Harvey Oswald
Summarizing what we learned about Jack in the previous posts, at the age of 18 he did his first stretch in a federal prison, about nine months, for impersonating a navy non-com and passing bad checks.2The documentation for this part of Jack’s career in in my first post (here).
After his release, he proved to have very poor impulse control, stealing a car every time his marriages/career went sour and setting out in search of greener fields. This resulted in several jail terms for car theft, ultimately landing Jack in Leavenworth USP. After his release from Leavenworth in 1955, he switched names from Jack Grossi to Jack Leslie Bowen.3The documentation for this part of Jack’s career in in my second post (here). I’ll mostly just use plain “Jack” in writing about him.
Changing from Grossi to Bowen did little to improve Jack’s luck, nor did it help when he decided to rob a bank in Canada, a move which got him a stay in Kingston prison for over 3 years, then a return trip to the U.S. to serve more time for violating his parole for car theft by robbing a bank.
As his lengthy rap sheet shows, Jack was a poor car thief and an even worse bank robber, but he was a very good cartoonist/commercial artist. It was probably due to the latter skill, not the former, that he was hired as an assistant art director at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall (JCS), a Dallas typography company, in August 1961.
A little over a year later, in October 1962, JCS also hired the future assassin of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, as a camera trainee. Both Jack and Lee worked in the camera department, so they soon met each other, and as a result of a casual conversation described below, Jack agreed to act as the sponsor for Lee Harvey Oswald’s Dallas library card (see my previous post for a picture of the card). This seems to be the only interaction the two had.
In April 1963, Oswald was fired from JCS. In August of that year, Jack also resigned, for reasons we will look at below.
Oswald’s library card later became one of the first pieces of information Dallas police had about Oswald: he had it in his wallet when he was arrested for shooting Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, along with a draft card Oswald had forged in the name of Alek Hidell.4See Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History (Norton, 2007), p. 107. Jack’s name on Oswald’s library card naturally attracted people’s attention, and he was one of the first JCS employees interviewed when the FBI began their investigation of Oswald.
The December 1963 interviews
I have gone through the FBIHQ file on Oswald, and Jack Bowen and the library card are first mentioned in SA Robert Gemberling’s Nov. 30 report.5FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 21, p. 140. (This is Commission Document 5.) By Dec. 2, Inspector Don Moore is on the phone, asking for info on Bowen; the Dallas SAC responds they are looking for him and will respond ASAP.6(FBI 105-82555-1159, p. 3, in Oswald HQ File, Section 53. The FBI soon find out that Jack is in New York, though how they found that out is not in the files I have checked. They promptly send two agents to interview him.
The FBI talks to Jack
Jack is interviewed on December 7 by New York SAs Hurley and Lee.7FBI 105-82555-744, released as ARC 124-10010-10218. MFF has almost no ARC releases from this file, but they do have a 1980s release of the 105-82555 file. This particular report is available in section 37, pp. 92-93. It also appears in SA Robert Gembling’s December 23 report, FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 57, p. 469. (This is Commission Document 205.) As the interview begins, Jack tells the SAs he is in New York City on business, staying at the Martinique Hotel. We learn Jack’s history and position with JCS and his recent departure from the company. Jack recalls that Oswald began work in late fall or early winter of 1962 as a camera trainee, and says he found Oswald “a withdrawn, asocial person,” who was not liked by his coworkers.
Jack learned about Oswald’s desire for a library card when he heard Oswald talking with Dennis Ofstein, a co-worker in the photography department. Jack knew that a reference was required for a card, and gave his name and address to Oswald to use for this purpose. Apparently the SAs ask Jack quite a bit about this, because they record that Jack’s wife works at the Dallas public library, that she never met Oswald, and that Jack never lent his card to Oswald. Jack concedes that Oswald could have used his (Bowen’s) name to apply for a card.8I have to say I don’t understand the point of the SA’s query. Why Oswald would do that? What would the point be? Jack’s own library card is now with one Eddie Reddell.
Jack tells the FBI interviewers that Oswald never talked politics with him, but he does know a few personal details about Oswald. (These are described in the interview report, and are all accurate.) Jack never met with Oswald outside work, but he believes that Dennis Ofstein did. He knows that both Oswald and Ofstein were interested in the Russian language, and recalls one instance where Oswald explained Russian map symbols to Ray Hawkins, foreman of JCS photography department, who was preparing maps for the U.S. Army. He also recalls a phone call from a Dallas bank asking about a check Oswald drew on a New Orleans bank, which he referred to the JCS Secretary-Treasurer. And that’s it.
The FBI talks to Eddie
On December 12, FBI interviewers talked to Eddie Reddell, the aquaintance who Jack said had his Dallas library card.9FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 57, p. 467. This is the December 23 Gemberling report on Oswald, available separately as Commission Document 205.
Reddell, a salesman at Mohr Chevrolet in Dallas, explained that he first met Jack Bowen at the Stork Club in August, and set up a car lease for him through another company, Continental Leasing Corp. He also told Jack about his ambition to set up an import-export company that would lease automobiles and heavy equipment, with offices in Mexico. He has done research, but his limited finances have kept him from actually investing money in this project. Grossi encouraged him to keep working on the idea and lent him his library card to help find more information.
The FBI has questions about Jack’s card: Did Reddell ever use the card? No. Did Reddell know Lee Harvey Oswald? Hell no. Did Reddell know Jack Ruby? No; didn’t he run a strip club? Did Reddell have reason to think that Bowen knew Oswald? Nope. And that was all the questions Dallas had to ask Reddell.
The FBI did not let any of the details Jack gave them slip by; in addition to Reddell, they interviewed Hawkins and Ofstein at JCS, and dug up other names of Oswald’s co-workers as well.10Most of these interviews are collected in Commission Document 205 (pp. 465 and following). At this point, it seems that the FBI was not aware that Jack Bowen was aka Jack Grossi, nor were they aware of his previous criminal record. They discovered this in the next round of interviews conducted with Jack’s friends and associates in February 1964. Jack himself was not interviewed about Oswald again, for reasons that will become clear below.
The February interviews
In a February 6 teletype, HQ posed two more more questions for Dallas.11FBI file number 105-8225-1757, p. 2, in FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 77 1) Find out Bowen’s background, esp. his parents. Is he related to John Howard Bowen, aka Albert Osbourne, the man who rode on the bus to Mexico city with Oswald in September? 2) We are interested in the “Texas Import-Export” company. Reinterview Reddell to see if this company is related to his proposed venture. Reinterview Bowen about his plans with Reddell. Find out if “Texas Import-Export” means anything to him. Find out if he ever talked to Oswald about his import-export plan with Reddell. Get us answers ASAP.
Jack and John Howard Bowen
The question about Oswald’s fellow-traveller to Mexico, Mr. Bowen/Osborne, is not difficult to understand, though it is a strange story. Oswald took a bus trip to Mexico at the end of September, a trip that has given rise to a vast amount of speculation. Albert Osbourne sat next to Oswald on the bus, from Nuevo Laredo to Mexico City. When the FBI tracked Osbourne down, he gave them an extremely odd runaround, pretending to be two different people: Albert James Osbourne and John Howard Bowen.12Although Osbourne eventually admitted he was both Bowen and Osbourne, he denied that he had sat next to Oswald, or even saw Oswald on the bus. The confusion Osbourne created is described in Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, pp. 750-751. Since it appears that his real name was Osbourne, I’ll stick to that. The FBI first interviewed Osbourne in February of 1964, hence the question to Dallas at just this time about Jack’s relationship with this other pseudo-Bowen.
Dallas finally checked their files, and found that Jack Bowen was aka Jack Grossi of Paterson New Jersey, FBI number 3-967-794. Parents divorced, father’s location unknown, mother remarried to Mr. JC. “No apparent relationship between Grossi and Albert Osbourne, aka John Howard Bowen, established by Dallas files on Grossi.”13FBI file number 105-82555-2159, in Oswald HQ File 105-82555, Section 91, p. 44.
This simple answer is hard to refute. Osbourne was around 75 when he met Oswald on the bus. He was born in England and moved to the U.S. in the 1910s. He started using the name John Bowen as far back as 1916. He was never convicted of any crimes in the U.S. or Canada, and had no police record of any kind. Jack Grossi was born in New Jersey in 1927, had a long criminal record, and started calling himself Bowen after his release from Leavenworth prison in 1955. Based on their FBI files, these two men never crossed paths, coexisting in the U.S. and Canada without any recorded interaction whatsoever.
This was enough for the FBI: not related, next question. The oddness of Oswald running into two people who both laid false claim to the Bowen family’s name has continued to bother some. My own take is that most people never put their encounters with their fellow men under the kind of microscopic examination that the FBI did for Oswald and those who crossed his path. If we did, I think we would find that random chance produces many similarly odd encounters.
The other question that HQ put to Dallas is a different story. I still find the explanations for the question and investigation puzzling. I will definitely do another post on this. Someday. For now, here is what the file has to say:
On the basis of information developed in the original interview with EDDIE REDDELL and JACK LESLIE BOWEN wherein REDDELL admitted discussing in detail with BOWEN his plan to set up an import-export business dealing with leasing of heavy equipment in Mexico and in view of the fact that BOWEN was a former fellow employee with LEE HARVEY OSWALD at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall in Dallas and due to the fact that BOWEN’s name was used on OSWALD’s library card, investigation was instituted to determine if REDDELL or BOWEN discussed this venture with LEE HARVEY OSWALD.14FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 381
Why does HQ care whether Bowen talked to Oswald about Eddie’s idea for an import-export business? I have no idea. Absent an explanation for this interest, all we can do here is simply look at the results of the investigation Dallas instituted. The results are in yet another massive compendium of reports by SA Robert Gemberling which features interviews with just about everyone who had dealings with Jack in Dallas.15FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 381-90, Section 103, pp. 391-392. This is the FBI Gemberling Report of 10 Mar 1964 re: Oswald-Russia/Cuba, available separately as Commission Document 735. In the notes below, I will save myself some typing and just give links to the Oswald HQ file.
On Feb 12 Dallas begins working its way down the list of Jack Bowen’s acquaintances, starting again with Eddie Reddell.16FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 382 No, Eddie has no knowledge of “Texas Import-Export Company”. No, Eddie has never heard of Alexander Kleinlerer. (In case you are wondering, this is the first time this name has popped up!) No, Eddie doesn’t know where Jack is. In fact, Eddie hasn’t seen Jack since August, but he knows Jack traveled to New York in December and returned to Dallas about three weeks ago. He himself has been looking for Jack high and low for two weeks, because he is delinquent on his payments for the Pontiac Grand Prix Eddie leased him in August. If he finds Jack, he will tell the FBI right away. Eddie suggests the feds can also talk to Max Cherry, Jim McCollom, or Joe Saitta. Maybe they know where he is.
The same day, Dallas also talks to Pauline Allen, whose name has come up more than once as a way to get in touch with Jack.17FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 385-386 Pauline says she has known Jack for several months, but he has never resided with her. He possibly gives her address because he no longer has a permanent address in Dallas.
Pauline tells the Dallas agents that Jack was formerly employed at JCS, but he left that company in August. After he left he became interested in the import-export business at Dallas. To her knowledge, Jack went to New York to look for a job in advertising. She last saw him about two weeks ago (i.e. the end of January 1964), on his return from New York. He told her he was now going to look for advertising work in Dallas.
Pauline let Grossi use her credit card because she “became quite fond of him after meeting him”, but he ran up bills of over $1000 using it. On top of this, about three weeks ago he asked her to cash a $305 check which came back marked insufficient funds, so she has decided to break off their relationship. No, she didn’t file charges against him; her attorney advised her it would only result in embarrassment to her and she probably wouldn’t get her money back.
She gives a description of Jack, identifies a picture of him from 1956 and describes his leased Pontiac Grand Prix (PU 6932, metallic bronze paint). She also gives more names of Jack’s pals: Max Cherry, John McCaughan, Mr. and Mrs. McCollom, Gary Lawler, Hope Moss. She will immediately notify FBI if she finds out where he is.
The FBI talks to John McCaughan the day after they interview Pauline.18FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, p. 387 McCaughan works in the Dallas advertising department of Braniff Airlines. He calls Jack a “former acquaintance”. According to McCaughan, Jack was a business partner of Max Cherry in the Cherry Cattle Company, which did business in northern Mexico. Jack left Dallas about a week ago; he told McCaughan he was having marital problems with his wife in Canada, and McCaughan surmises he has gone north to straighten things out.
The FBI interviews Gary Lawler on Feb. 15.19FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 388-389 They show him a picture of Jack Grossi and he identifies it as a picture of Jack Bowen. Lawler knows Jack from JCS. Lawler left JCS in November 1963 and now works at Prior Products (an automotive parts company) in Dallas.
He remembers that Jack left JCS about August 1963. Like Jack, Lawler met Lee Harvey Oswald at JCS, but barely knew him and never discussed politics with him. Oswald and Jack worked in the camera department; Lawler was in production. He recalls that Jack set up headliner type and did miscellaneous artwork. He used to live in an apartment on Stevens Forest Drive, in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.20Lawler has a good memory; Jack’s address as listed on Oswald’s library card is 1916 Stevens Forest Drive.
Lawler last saw Jack about three weeks ago (i.e. the last week of January). He was staying at the Executive Inn and told Lawler he was leaving the next day for New York. Jack said he could be contacted through Max Cherry. He planned to go into the import-export business with Cherry in Chihuahua Mexico and El Paso. He originally planned to go into the insurance business with a Mr. McCollom but that deal fell through.
Lawler is sure that Jack never discussed the import-export business with Oswald because Oswald left long before Jack ever mentioned the idea. He has never heard of the Texas Import-Export Company. He has never heard of Alexander Kleinlerer either.
He recalls that Jack married a Canadian woman named PG about three or four years ago. PG now lives with her mother in Canada and Jack is occasionally in contact with PG’s sister EE.
Yes, he has been to the Carousel and Vegas Clubs, but he does not know the clubs’ owner Jack Ruby. No, he doesn’t know anyone else who knows Jack Grossi. Yes, he will immediately notify FBI if he finds out where Jack is staying.
On Feb 18, Dallas SA Carter talks to Max Cherry.21FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 383 Max first met Jack in June, through someone named Donald Dawson, at the Stork Club. Max is a knowing type. He knows Jack Bowen was originally Jack Grossi and changed his name after Leavenworth. He knows Jack worked with Oswald. Jack told Max that Oswald worked at JCS for a very short period.
Jack did not become interested in Mexican import-export until after the assassination, in December 1963, Max says. Jack went to New York in December, and returned to Dallas later that month. From Dallas, he assumes Jack went to Chihuahua, returning to Dallas about January 12. In late January Jack rented a check protector and typewriter in the name of the Cherry Cattle Company. Max has the papers on this. Jack tried to leave this equipment with Max but Max declined. Instead, the police recovered these two items from Pauline Allen’s car on January 29. Max thinks Jack ‘got the best’ of Pauline Allen, sticking her with a bad check for $300 and credit card bills for over $1000 of gas.22There seems to be a gap here. Why were the police searching Pauline’s car? Why doesn’t Jack just return the equipment himself? There is a suggestion below that the Cherry Cattle Company might not have been on the up and up. Perhaps this is why questions about Jack’s business affairs are seldom answered.
Mrs. Mary McCollom
On Feb. 20 SA Carter interviews Mrs. Mary McCollom, who works at Colonial Western Mutual Life Insurance.23FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 103, pp. 391-392 She and her husband Jim know Jack as Bowen, not Grossi. They met Jack in August 1963, on the very day he left JCS. He told them his wife Pat was in Canada and had been “disturbed” about him. The McColloms have not seen Jack for about four weeks. They last heard from him in late Jan. or Feb. 1964.
Jack gave the McColloms two addresses to forward his mail; one is the address of his wife Pat in Canada; the other is the address of one Sam [di] Bella in NJ. Jack has the mail from his old Oak Cliff apartment forwarded to the McColloms, who then post it on to these two people.
Mrs. M has never heard Jack mention Texas Import-Export. She checks with her husband while SA Carter is there and he has never heard Jack mention it either. So sorry, no address for any Dallas associates of Jack, no info on what Jack is up to now. Of course they will contact the FBI if they learn anything.
The same day, Feb. 20, SA Carter gets a call from Jack Harris.24FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, p. 390 Who is Harris? He is from Continental Leasing, the company which leased Jack a Pontiac Grand Prix in August. Harris has heard (from Max Cherry) that the FBI is looking for Jack. So is Harris. Jack missed his lease payment on Feb. 9. Harris received a check from Jack’s wife Pat for the Jan. payment, but it bounced. He has an address for Pat, and a note from Jack saying he will settle with Continental in ten days. The note gives a contact address of a Mr. Trippi in NJ. That is all Harris has. If he finds out where Jack is, he will be sure to tell the FBI. All of this is a sign of very bad things to come in the very near future for Jack. If you are interested in this, be sure to read the next installment in Jack’s saga.
Jack Grossi in the Oswald file
The FBI files on Lee Oswald are massive, a subject for a book, not a blog post. Jack, however, only takes up a dozen or so pages in the biggest one, the FBIHQ file on Oswald, numbered 105-82555.
The HQ file was assembled from FBI field office reports and files, most notably from the Dallas Oswald file (100-10461). Many of the files excerpted in this post show that they were originally from Dallas. The ARC does include the Dallas file, but only small bits of it are available on line. Except for one or two documents, I have therefore just cited the HQ file.
The FBI Oswald files are “core” assassination documents. Materials still unreleased in 1992 were therefore first on the list of documents to review and release.25See my page on ARC content (here) for an overview of FBI files in the Collection. In fact, I believe that all of the material discussed here had been released long before the JFK Act was passed.26The release history of 105-82555 is not well documented. I think it is safe to say that the sections on Jack were all fully released by the 1980s. In fact, their release was probably earlier, since they were also included in what are now called the Warren Commission Documents, or CDs. There are over 1500 of these numbered documents, including CD 205 and CD 735 cited above. Some CDs were released in full in the 1960s, soon after the WC closed. Many were released, in part or in full, in the 1970s; I believe that part of CD 735 was released at that time, the remainder probably even earlier.
This contrasts with the FBI subject files, such as the files we looked at in the previous two posts on Jack. The ARRB allowed postponements for many of these documents. We have already discussed some of the reasons for the postponements in Jack’s subject files, and will have more to say as we plow through File 2.
- 2The documentation for this part of Jack’s career in in my first post (here).
- 3The documentation for this part of Jack’s career in in my second post (here).
- 4See Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History (Norton, 2007), p. 107.
- 6(FBI 105-82555-1159, p. 3, in Oswald HQ File, Section 53.
- 7FBI 105-82555-744, released as ARC 124-10010-10218. MFF has almost no ARC releases from this file, but they do have a 1980s release of the 105-82555 file. This particular report is available in section 37, pp. 92-93. It also appears in SA Robert Gembling’s December 23 report, FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 57, p. 469. (This is Commission Document 205.)
- 8I have to say I don’t understand the point of the SA’s query. Why Oswald would do that? What would the point be?
- 10Most of these interviews are collected in Commission Document 205 (pp. 465 and following).
- 11FBI file number 105-8225-1757, p. 2, in FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 77
- 12Although Osbourne eventually admitted he was both Bowen and Osbourne, he denied that he had sat next to Oswald, or even saw Oswald on the bus. The confusion Osbourne created is described in Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, pp. 750-751.
- 13FBI file number 105-82555-2159, in Oswald HQ File 105-82555, Section 91, p. 44.
- 14FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 381
- 16FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 382
- 17FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 385-386
- 18FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, p. 387
- 19FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 388-389
- 20Lawler has a good memory; Jack’s address as listed on Oswald’s library card is 1916 Stevens Forest Drive.
- 21FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, pp. 383
- 22There seems to be a gap here. Why were the police searching Pauline’s car? Why doesn’t Jack just return the equipment himself? There is a suggestion below that the Cherry Cattle Company might not have been on the up and up. Perhaps this is why questions about Jack’s business affairs are seldom answered.
- 23FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 103, pp. 391-392
- 24FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 102, p. 390
- 25See my page on ARC content (here) for an overview of FBI files in the Collection.
- 26The release history of 105-82555 is not well documented. I think it is safe to say that the sections on Jack were all fully released by the 1980s. In fact, their release was probably earlier, since they were also included in what are now called the Warren Commission Documents, or CDs. There are over 1500 of these numbered documents, including CD 205 and CD 735 cited above. Some CDs were released in full in the 1960s, soon after the WC closed. Many were released, in part or in full, in the 1970s; I believe that part of CD 735 was released at that time, the remainder probably even earlier.