Saturday, September 1, 2012

Former FBI agent Wally Heitman dies

Wallace Ren "Wally" Heitman, Dallas FBI agent who interviewed Marina Oswald, dies at 92.

Wallace Ren “Wally” Heitman was drying off at the YMCA after his noontime workout and shower when he heard a television report that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

The FBI agent dressed and ran across downtown to the Texas School Book Depository, where he joined the early moments of the investigation of the assassination.

He was the principal interviewer of Marina Oswald, wife of the accused assassin.

He went on to become a Dallas immigration lawyer and mediator.

Mr. Heitman, 92, died Aug. 24 of complications from pneumonia at UT Southwestern University Hospital’s St. Paul building.

A memorial service will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sept. 15 at his Dallas home.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Heitman found Dallas County Sheriff Bill Decker in front of the School Book Depository, according to Mr. Heitman’s 2008 oral history interview for The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. At that moment, the sheriff believed the assassin was still on the upper floors of the building.

Mr. Heitman was sent to interview observers in the sheriff’s office across the street. Then J. Gordon Shanklin, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Dallas, told him to go to Dallas police headquarters to help interview a suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Oswald’s interrogation had ground to a halt before Mr. Heitman arrived. Oswald became irate when he learned one of his interrogators, FBI agent James Hosty, had interviewed his wife, Marina.

“The investigation never got off first base,” Mr. Heitman said in his oral history.

On Nov. 24, Mr. Heitman was sent to Parkland Memorial Hospital to interview Oswald after he had been shot. But the mortally wounded suspect did not gain consciousness.

On Nov. 28, Mr. Heitman began interviewing Marina Oswald. He was teamed with Anatole Boguslav, an expert Russian interpreter from the FBI’s New  York office.

The agents first interviewed Ms. Oswald at the Inn of the Six Flags in Arlington, where she and her two children were in protective custody.

“She was intelligent and soon learned that the presence of the interpreter, who served as a buffer between us, was to her advantage,” Mr. Heitman wrote in his book, Wife of the Accused Assassin. “She used that advantage well.”

During the scores of interviews that followed, Mr. Heitman picked up some Russian vocabulary as Ms. Oswald did the same with English.

Mr. Heitman was born in Vivian, La. His father took Mr. Heitman to El Paso in 1925. Mr. Heitman’s son, Edward Heitman of Payne Springs, said his grandfather was possibly looking for work or an arid climate for his own health.

Mr. Heitman was placed in the Southwestern Children’s Home in El Paso, where he graduated from high school in 1937. The orphanage is now The El Paso Center for Children.

His mother, Lillie Moss Ferguson, wasn’t able to locate her son until he was 17 and she read a newspaper story about his becoming an Eagle Scout.

Mr. Heitman attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene for three years, paying for his education by selling Bibles door to door, hitching rides to his sales territory in Pennsylvania each summer.

In 1940, he got a job with the FBI, working in fingerprint classification. He learned of the position from friends at 
Hardin-Simmons, he said in his oral history.

He worked his way through George Washington University by working for in the fingerprint laboratory and with the aid of an internship at a prison, interviewing incoming prisoners in exchange for room, board and haircuts. He slept in the cell block.

In 1944, Mr. Heitman received his bachelor’s degree in government from George Washington University and became a special agent with the FBI.

He married Juanita Eloise Seimers in 1947. The couple had three children and divorced in 1967.

Mr. Heitman was stationed in Massachusetts, New York, New Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico City and Miami before moving to the Dallas FBI office in 1962.

Mr. Heitman retired from the FBI in Dallas in 1970.

He practiced immigration law with a degree he received from Southern Methodist University in 1969. He retired from his law practice about 15 years ago, but continued to work as a mediator, much of it on a pro-bono basis, his son said.

His daughter, Kathy Searcy, died in a 1993 automobile accident in Kenya, while she was on a missionary trip.

In addition to his son, Mr. Heitman is survived by his wife, Sharon Heitman of Palm Springs, Calif.; another son, Dr. David Heitman of Fairview; a stepson, Alan Glowach of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; and seven grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to Albuquerque Christian Children’s Home, 5700 Winter Haven Road Northwest, Albuquerque, N.M. 87120.


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