John Hurt sat in his living room and watched the remarkable television coverage. It seemed that President John F. Kennedy had been killed by an assassin in Dallas, Texas, earlier that day. As the evening wore on, his local Raleigh, North Carolina television station did not have its usual evening broadcast; they pre-empted all programming to show the latest news on the shooting.
It seemed that a former US Marine, a man named Oswald, had shot the president and then killed a police officer as well. This Oswald fellow was in custody, and the body of the president was being taken back to Washington, D.C. The news kept saying that Oswald was the only shooter, that early reports said he had tried to go the Soviet Union and live there and that he had communist sympathies. John, along with the nation, watched all the incredible pictures and updates. John had been in the military himself during World War II, and news such as this did not upset him as much as it did most people who were not used to war. On the other hand, John would later describe himself as “a great Kennedyphile” and someone who appreciated the policies of the administration. Besides, Kennedy was a fellow war vet.
So, he sat in his living room, poured himself a short glass of Scotch, continued to watch the updates on the assassination, and smoked. As an employee of the state of North Carolina in the insurance investigation department, John had the reputation of being tough but fair. That went back, some said, to his time in the service during the war. However, almost paralyzing arthritis had rendered John disabled, and he was on the dole. John had earned a law degree from the University of Virginia, but he never took the bar and never practiced law.
He and his wife, Billie, lived simply but comfortably in Raleigh. John was a short man (he stood 5’4″ tall) and was a chain smoker. He watched the news that evening, he ran through cigarette after cigarette, and Billie came in and out of the living room, telling John to come to bed, that they would catch up with all the news in the morning. There was nothing they could do, Billie said. It was a tragedy, Billie said. Come to bed, Billie said. John had a history of not sleeping. In fact, he had a history of erratic behavior, something that had caused some trouble in his life since the war. He had requested psychiatric treatment at Duke University’s mental health hospital, but that request was denied.
After two days of wall-to-wall coverage of the shooting, John was watching the news live when he and the rest of the nation saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald in the parking garage of the Dallas jail. He moved excitedly to the edge of his chair. Billie came in wiping her hands on her apron. “I can’t believe it!” John kept saying. Even a war veteran like John was stunned by witnessing a shooting live on TV.
Of course, John’s war service wasn’t really at the front lines, so he didn’t really see that much of the war. No, John served his country in military intelligence. He worked as a valuable asset in both Europe and Asia. Records are sketchy, so we aren’t quite sure exactly the depths of John’s activities in the intelligence community during the war.
What we do know is that the night after John F. Kennedy was shot, Lee Harvey Oswald made two phone calls from the Dallas jail.
One was to his lawyer.
One was to John Hurt.