Meeting Warren Caster

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1 Meeting Warren Caster The true story of Warren Caster the man who brought two rifles into the Texas School Book Depository two days before the assassination By Rick Caster Introduction Very occasionally, while researching the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, something jumps out at you from the pages of a book and makes you ask: I wonder... This happened to me as I was reading Priscilla McMillan s Marina and Lee. What caught my eye was a name that of Warren Caster, an employee at the Texas School Book Depository at the time of the assassination. The name Caster is fairly rare here in England and I began to wonder whether this man with whom I share a surname was still alive. I began to speculate on what sort of people the Stateside Casters were. More importantly, I wondered whether Warren Caster was not only still alive, but maybe in a position to further my knowledge of the assassination. Decisions My first step was to contact my friend and fellow researcher Ian Griggs who has the Warren Commission 26 Volumes. He confirmed to me that Warren Caster had testified before the Warren Commission and he sent me a complete copy of that testimony. From that I learnt that at the time of the Kennedy assassination, Warren Caster lived in Merrill Road, Dallas. I found that this road was situated about two miles north of Love Field. For the price of an airmail stamp, I felt it would be worth writing to that address to see if Warren Caster still lived there and indeed if he were still alive. Three weeks after writing a full and detailed letter about myself and my research into the Kennedy assassination I was delighted to receive a letter bearing an

2 Albuquerque, New Mexico postmark. I had obviously been expecting one from Dallas but it was from Warren Caster and he was very much alive. Warren explained that he no longer lived in Dallas but that his son David now had the house on Merrill Road and he had forwarded my letter on to Warren. To my amazement, Warren stated that he shared my interest in tracing the Caster name. I could tell from the tone of his letter that Warren was willing to talk to me about the Kennedy assassination, albeit on the day it happened he had been out of town on business. We continued to correspond by mail and by telephone for several months; then Warren invited me to visit him at his home in Albuquerque. I decided to incorporate my visit with another trip to Dallas with Ian, who had already booked a trip to San Francisco via Dallas. The meeting On our arrival in Dallas on Monday 5th June 1996, I telephoned David, Warren s son, to confirm that everything was going to plan. I was taken aback to learn that Warren had suffered a bad fall and was, in fact, in hospital. However, David assured me that Warren had no wish for this to affect our visit, and he was looking forward to meeting me. After two days in Dallas, Ian and I flew to Albuquerque where we were met at the airport by Warren s wife, Ruthanna (this lady is not to be confused with the 'Ruth Ann' mentioned in the 1995 book The Men on the Sixth Floor by Glen Sample and Mark Collom, who was described as 'definitely Hispanic'.) She drove us straight to Lovelace Hospital where we had the great pleasure of meeting Warren Caster. He was in good spirits and we spoke at length about England and our family surname. Warren then assured me that he was perfectly happy for me to write an article about his recollections of 22nd November 1963 and the days immediately before and after. He was so

3 enthusiastic that he urged: Let s get on with it! The following is the story as it was related to me by Warren Caster during visits to him in hospital over two days. Background Warren Caster was born on 15th June 1918 in Mountainair, New Mexico, a small town 50 miles south of Albuquerque in the middle of the state. He received college degrees at Highland University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. In 1939, while attending college, he met and married Ruthanna and they have remained happily married for 57 years. They have two sons, David and William. Warren taught at schools in New Mexico until 1952 when he began work for the South western Publishing Company. That job brought him to Dallas. The offices of south western Publishing were rented from the TSBD at 411 Elm Street, and in November 1963, Warren was the District Manager for his company. His office was situated on the second floor of the TSBD, overlooking Dealey Plaza. The two rifles Warren Caster s association with the Kennedy assassination began quite innocently on Wednesday 20th November He had gone to lunch and stopped at Sanger Harris, a sporting goods department store, to look for a rifle for his elder son s Christmas present. (The store is no longer there it was on the site of the present El Centro College at Elm and Lamar.) He ended up buying a Remington single shot.22 rifle for his son William and a sporterized Mauser for himself. The two rifles were individually boxed up and Warren returned to work, carrying the two boxes. In the building, on his way back to his office, Warren met his friend Roy Truly, the TSBD Superintendent, and he showed the two rifles to Mr Truly, who picked up the larger rifle (the Mauser). Also present at this time while the guns were being examined were William Shelley, Manager of the Distribution Department,

4 and a small group of employees, one of whom, Warren recalled, was Lee Harvey Oswald. After approximately ten minutes of handling and studying the rifles, the group broke up and Warren replaced the weapons in their boxes. He took them to his office where they remained until 4 o clock when he put them into the boot of his car and drove home. The day of the assassination Thursday 21st November 1963 was just another normal working day at the office for Warren, but Friday 22nd was to be anything but normal although he did not know it at the time. He was aware of the presidential visit on the Friday, but he also knew that he had an unavoidable business engagement that day. He had to attend North Texas State University at Denton, 35 miles north of Dallas, to meet Dr Vernon V. Payne. He would thus be unable to watch the presidential motorcade as it drove past the TSBD. Warren set off for Denton, completed his business and had lunch with Dr Payne. As he was preparing to leave for home, some students asked them if they had heard the shocking news from Dallas. The students told them about the attempt on President Kennedy s life but little else was known. At this time, it was believed that the President was still alive. The amazing news for Warren was that the shots had been fired in Dealey Plaza. Warren tried to contact his office by telephone but all lines were engaged, so he immediately left the university to begin his drive home. On the way, he stopped at Farmer s Branch, in the northern suburbs of Dallas, and managed to get through to his wife at home. He then learnt the tragic news that the President had died of the gunshot wounds he had received. Much to Warren s horror, Ruthanna added that the TSBD had been sealed off as it was believed that the shots had come from there. Warren battled his way through the traffic jams and eventually managed to reach home. Like millions of fellow Americans and

5 others throughout the world he then followed the continuous TV coverage as more information and events began to unfold. It soon became apparent that a suspect had been arrested and he was named as Lee Harvey Oswald. Warren knew him and he told me: I used to see him frequently, eating his lunch in the lunchroom, but he was a weird sort of guy and he kept himself to himself. (The second floor lunchroom was close to Warren s office.) The last time Warren could recall having see Oswald was two days before when Oswald had been one of that small group of TSBD employees who were examining Warren s two newlypurchased rifles before returning to work after their lunch break. At this point in the interview with Warren, his wife recalled a poignant moment. She said that while she was watching TV and waiting for Warren to get home from Denton, she had watched Air Force One fly over their Dallas home en route to Washington DC with the dead President s body on board. She could still remember this quite vividly and with great sadness. The following days Warren told me that he returned to the depository on Saturday 23rd November with Ruthanna and their younger son David. He recalls that he had no trouble entering the building; in fact, it was rather quiet. As far as he could remember, the sixth floor was not sealed off, although he did not venture that far. He merely collected some paperwork from his office and returned home. Warren then recalled the events of Sunday 24th. Together with his family, he sat down to watch the transfer of Oswald from City Hall to the County Jail live on television. When Jack Ruby stepped forward to cut down the alleged assassin, Warren remembers that his initial reaction was: This cannot be real. What the hell is going on here?

6 I asked Warren what the atmosphere was like at the TSBD after the assassination and the killing of Oswald. He recalled that after the initial shock there was a strange kind of buzz about the place, but before long, everything returned to normal. However an uneasy calm remained throughout the building. Warren Commission testimony In March 1964, Warren was contacted by Special Agent E.J. Robertson, of the Dallas FBI. Robertson told Warren that he had to ask him some questions on behalf of the President s Commission which had been set up to establish the facts pertaining to the death of President Kennedy. Warren attended the questioning, which was carried out at the Post Office Building in Dallas, and he answered the agent s questions to the best of his ability. Shortly afterwards, on the afternoon of 14th May 1964, Warren again attended at Room 301 of the Post Office Building where he testified before Joseph A. Ball, an Assistant Counsel with the President s Commission (commonly known as the Warren Commission). I specifically asked Warren how he was treated by Mr Ball during his testimony. Warren replied: He was very polite and acted as though he did not want to impose on me. I just answered what he asked me and that was that. (Warren s testimony is at 7H ). Warren did bring up one interesting point about his testimony. To his knowledge, the Warren Commission never confirmed his alibi with Dr Payne or with anyone else at the University. As Warren said: They got off my back pretty quick" He was never contacted again. Warren continued to work at the TSBD for a further eight years, being promoted to the position of Manager of the South western Publishing Company. He eventually moved on to become the Regional Vice President before retiring in 1983.

7 What might have been? As I was beginning to wind down the interview on the second day at Lovelace Hospital, Warren related one darkly interesting story to me. A very good friend, Roger Williams, had telephoned Warren on Thursday 21st November and asked if they could meet in Warren s office the following day to watch the presidential motorcade as it passed. Warren explained that he had to be in Denton that day (22nd) and so would miss the motorcade himself. He also added that it would be useless to watch from his office window on the second floor as the view to the street would be obscured by trees. The ideal place to watch, Warren told Williams, would be up on the sixth floor where the view was better. Williams thanked Warren and said that he would go to the Trade Mart to see the President there instead. Now just suppose that Warren had not had that appointment in Denton... Warren s opinion One important question which I almost forget to ask Warren was who he thought had killed the President that day. Warren replied in a very positive tone: To sum it all up, I think Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed President Kennedy. Why? I just can t speculate except to say that he really was some kind of nut! I thanked Warren for his time and wished him a speedy recovery. Since returning home to England, I have spoken on the telephone with both Warren and Ruthanna and he has been convalescing well at home. Conclusion Just some simple connections such as a surname and a few straightforward questions opened the door to a witness who has not spoken to any researcher for over 30 years. Rick Caster, September 1995

8 Note: In the late 90s the Caster family relocated to North Carolina, where both rifles remain in the possession of the family. Warren later returned (with Ruthanna) to New Mexico, the state of his birth. He died there in September (This article was originally published in The Assassination Chronicles, Vol. 1, Issue 3, September 1995)

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