Months before investigators said he fired the bullets that killed President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald wrote a letter to the head of the Communist Party in the United States seeking membership.
Communist Party USA chairman Gus Hall, apparently fearing Oswald was a government agent, never responded, and the letter remained in his files until his death in Manhattan on Oct. 13, 2000.
Now a family member has decided to sell it in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the 1963 assassination, and it will be offered Thursday by Philip Weiss Auctions in Lynbrook.
The single-page, handwritten letter bears no date. Addressed to Hall in Manhattan, it reads:
"Dear Sirs, I have followed the activities of the C.P. for the last few years and have decided that it is very timely and correct for me at this time . . . to apply for membership in the communist party of the U.S. I wish to become a member so that I may share, as fully as is possible, your trials and tribulations, as well as your glories and victories."
It is signed "Very sincerely Lee H. Oswald" and bears the same return address -- P.O. Box 2915, Dallas, Texas -- to which the mail-order rifle that killed Kennedy was sent.
The letter is one of hundreds of Kennedy-related items, including his famous rocking chair, being offered by various auction firms around the country before the Nov. 22 anniversary.
Weiss, who has never handled an Oswald item before, estimates the letter will sell for $10,000 to $20,000 based on prices realized by other auction houses for Oswald letters and postcards. A 1962 letter that Oswald wrote to his brother sold for $9,000 in 2008 and a postcard Oswald mailed from Russia while he was living there sold for $10,000 in the same auction. The former Marine defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and lived there until June 1962.
Like much surrounding Oswald, who was murdered by Jack Ruby two days after the assassination, the date he wrote the letter is a mystery.
The family member who consigned the letter -- and asked not to be identified -- provided some details. Said Weiss:
"The way she described it was they were in a car a week or so after the Kennedy assassination, and she asked Gus Hall, 'Did you ever hear from the man that assassinated Kennedy?' He said, 'Yes, as a matter of fact I received a letter from him.' And the family member was shocked and said, 'Where is it?'
"He said, 'I put it in a file because when I read the letter I thought he was an agent and didn't want to respond to it.' Hall was suspicious of the way the letter was written. It brought up a lot of red flags."
The family lost the envelope, which presumably had a postmark with a date, when it moved following Hall's death, Weiss said.
Weiss said his research showed Oswald closed his post office box on May 14, 1963, so the letter had to have been sent before then.
"Having the envelope would have been a slam dunk," Weiss said. "But this is still neat. It's an important piece of American history."