Moments before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, an unknown woman in Oxnard, California told telephone operators that the President would be killed. The call remains a mystery to this day.
The story was reported by the Associated Press immediately after the assassination in November 1963. The following report ran in the Washington Post:
“Mystery Call Foretold Fate of President”
LOS ANGELES, Nov 22
What could be an intriguing mystery in the President’s assassination might center in the Oxnard-Camarillo area, near Los Angeles.
Fifteen minutes before Mr. Kennedy was shot, an Oxnard telephone supervisor overheard a woman caller whisper to someone:
“The President is going to be killed.”
The strange call was intercepted by supervisors of the General Telephone Co. in Oxnard at 1:10 p.m. EST. The fatal wounding of Mr. Kennedy in Dallas occurred shortly after 1:25 EST.
Telephone company executives said it was impossible to trace the mysterious call other than to know that it originated in nearby Oxnard-Camarillo area.
The state mental institution is located at Camarillo.
Ray Sheehan, general manager of the telephone company there, said:
“One of our supervisors picked up the call. The caller kept dialing although her call was connected. Then she started whispering. Another supervisor listened in and was able to hear the woman saying, “The President is going to be killed.”
Sheehan said the mysterious call was reported to police — but after the President had been shot.
A blurb at the end of an article about the event can also be found in the St. Petersburg Times, dated the same day, which read:
Fifteen minutes before Kennedy was shot, an Oxnard, Calif. telephone supervisor overheard a woman caller whisper to someone:
“The President is going to be killed.” The strange call was intercepted by supervisors of the General Telephone Company in Oxnard.
The FBI investigated this mysterious phone call during its probe of the assassination. The FBI reports are cataloged by the Mary Ferrell Chronologies. In November 22, 1963, Book 1, page 12, a timeline of the phone call is given:
12:10 p.m. (CST) = 10:10 a.m. (PST)
Two experienced (6 years) telephone operators on a toll call line servicing 12,000 phones in Oxnard, California, report:
(1) Voice of middle-aged woman
(2) At 10:07-10:08 a.m.: “The President is going to die at 10:10” (12:10 CST)
(3) This said so rapidly that it might have been read: “The Justice, the Supreme Court, there is going to be a fire in all the windows; the Government is going up in flames.”
(4) Named 12 courts in order of importance starting with the Supreme Court to Probate Court and Juvenile Court.
(5) “The President is going to die at 10:30.” (12:30 CST)
(6) Courts again mentioned.
(7) “The Government takes over everything; lock, stock, and barrel.”
(8) One of the operators heard: “thermostat, rheostat, heostat.”
(9) Lasted 10-15 minutes. Operators switched to other calls. This caller was never connected to anyone else. At one time when operator offered help, the voice said, “Please get off the line; I’m using the phone.” (This was a party line.”)
(Legacy of Doubt: 234 says Bobby Kennedy very curious about call and investigated Oxnard 5/28/68) Call from Oxnard-Camarillo area 50 miles north of Los Angeles.
The mysterious call was also documented by the Warren Commission. Additional details about the call were provided.
Anonymous Telephone Call
November 22, 1963
Parker Sullivan, President, General Telephone Company, Santa Monica, California, telephonically advised Special Agent Paul L. Mack at 11:35 a.m., November 22, 1963, of receipt of anonymous telephone conversation at the Oxnard Exchange, Oxnard, California, at approximately 10:10 a.m. this date.
Telephone operators, Mrs. Doris E. Bliss, six years experience, and Mrs. Jean M. Shores, six and a half years experience, advised SA John E. Keane that Mrs. Bliss, operating a toll call board, recording Trunk No. 42, thought someone had a receiver off as she heard a fuzzy sound and received no reply to her call of “operator”. Then on hearing whispering sounds, asked Mrs. Shores to come in on the line as she thought party might be in trouble. Individual on line started to dial and after dialing a few numbers started whispering very faintly, “the President is going to die at 10:10”. Mrs. Bliss and Mrs. Shores looked at the telephone company clock located between them noting the time was 10:07 to 10:08. Mrs. Shores stated she next heard in the same whispering voice something as follows: “the Justice, the Supreme Court, there’s going to be fire in all the windows, the Government is going up in flames”. Mrs. Shores stated they thought the individual was reading something as she was whispering so rapidly. This party then evidently laid the receiver on the table, but no background noises whatever could be heard. The party then dialed 12 to 15 digits and Mrs. Bliss again asked if she could be of assistance. At this time, the voice which sounded like that of a middle aged woman replied, “No, I’m using the phone”. This reply was in a clear, normal voice and did not appear to indicate anything unusual. The party then went back into the whispering in a definite, rhythmic, fast tempo, naming at least 12 courts in order of importance staring with Supreme Court and ending with Probate and Juvenile Courts. The party then continued, “The President is going to die at 10:30”. The number of courts were again mentioned. That party then stated, “the Government takes over everything, lock, stock, and barrel”.
This is the last part of the conversation heard by Mrs. Shores. Mrs. Bliss heard a few seconds more of whispering in which the party stated a number of words as follows: thermostat, rheostat, heostat. The whispers then became inaudible and after a few seconds, Mrs. Bliss release the line as the individual on the party line had been attempting to get the line. Mrs. Shores and Mrs. Bliss stated that the entire lapse of above incident was 10 to 15 minutes, during which time they were both off and on the line to answer other calls. At no time was there any other party on the line and they were both of the opinion that no connection had been made with a second party, and that the caller was quite mentally disturbed.
Mrs. Delma C. Kerrick, Chief Operator, Oxnard Exhange, advised she has no knowledge of receipt of any similar calls.
Mr. Ray Sheehan, Manager, Oxnard Exchange, advised that recording Trunk No. 42, serves approximately 12,000 stations in the Oxnard, California area, of which 60 percent are party lines, and telephone company unable to identify caller or location from which made.
As with virtually every unanswered detail of President Kennedy’s assassination, this call has become the focal point of several conspiracy theories. Many of these, however, are based on conjecture and un-sourced narratives.
It has been alleged that Robert Kennedy wanted to investigate the mystery call. He reportedly told a friend that he wanted to find out more about the call during a campaign stop in 1968. RFK did in fact travel through Oxnard on May 28, 1968 – just days before his own assassination. Kennedy supposedly “disappeared for two hours” and used the excuse that he had been looking for a lost hat. This is most widely attributed to the book Legacy of Doubt, by Peter Noyes, p.234.
There is little evidence to corroborate this claim, and it isn’t known what Bobby Kennedy may have learned about the Oxnard call if he did make such a visit.
Author Gary Wean took the story further, implying that RFK’s assassination may have been related to his investigation of the Oxnard call.
Robert Kennedy was assassinated in an extension of JFK’s murder because he had let his feelings be known that, quote, “the only way I can have the power to learn who really killed my brother is to become President.”
Only a matter of hours after Det. Sgt. Ed Patton and I gave RFK documents in Oxnard, California, RFK was dead. These documents were phone records. They revealed a phone call had been made from Federal Commissioner Ben Nordman’s and Ventura Superior Court Judge Jerome Berenson’s law office over twenty minutes before JFK was assassinated that “he was going to be killed.” RFK was also given the names of the persons making the phone call.
Wean suggests in the paragraph above that someone at a law office was tipped off and made the mysterious phone call.
Despite the fact that Wean provided no sources or corroboration for his assertion, it has been repeated by many conspiracy theorists as truth.
Penn Jones, in his 1967 book Forgive My Grief, Volume 2 (p. 20-21), implied that the woman who made the call may have been actress Karyn Kupcinet, daughter of Irv Kupcinet, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Irv was allegedly an acquaintance of Jack Ruby. Miss Kupcinet was murdered days after the JFK assassination. Jones wrote:
A few days before the assassination, Karyn Kupcinet, 23, was trying to place a long distance telephone call from the Los Angeles area. According to reports, the long distance operator heard Miss Kupcinet scream into the telephone that President Kennedy was going to be killed.
Two days after the assassination, Miss Kupcinet was found murdered in her apartment. The case has never been solved.
Yet another of those many strange coincidences: Irv Kupcinet and Jack Ruby grew up and were acquainted with each other in the same neighborhood in Chicago.
Jones compared the story of Kupcinet above to the Oxnard call and referred to it as “approximately the same story as we have on Miss Kupcinet.”
The author, however, did not provide a source for his claim regarding Karyn Kupcinet making a call about the assassination of President Kennedy. Additionally, the details provided – while on the surface are similar to the Oxnard call – also conflict in some aspects. Jones stated that Kupcinet made her call “a few days” before the assassination, while the Oxnard call took place only minutes beforehand. The author also wrote that Miss Kupcinet was heard screaming into the phone, while the operators in Oxnard said that the woman on the line was whispering. Finally, Kupcinet was not found “two days later” but nearly a week after JFK’s assassination.
In 1992, Irv Kupcinet blasted the association of his daughter’s death with the JFK assassination, calling it an “outrage” and writing that the book, “…left the impression that some on the list may have been killed to silence them because of knowledge of the assassination. Nothing could be further from the truth in my daughter’s case.”
In Glamour Jungle, writer James Ellroy noted that Kupcinet had gone to Palm Springs the night of the assassination with three others, and stayed there for two days – without mentioning prior knowledge of JFK’s assassination.
Some critics have posed the question why Irv Kupcinet himself was not silenced, since he would have been the person to relay this information to his daughter.
Scripps Howard News Service revisited the mysterious call on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. The story noted that before the Dallas trip, other Kennedy events had been canceled due to death threats.
The FBI confirmed that a woman from Oxnard, California told telephone operators minutes before the assassination of John F. Kennedy that, “The President is going to be killed.” The woman’s mental state was questioned, and the call was deemed untraceable. Despite this, the call has been the subject of fascination and conspiracy theories for decades.
Were these simply the ramblings of a disturbed person, or a warning from someone who was privy to inside information? Over 50 years later, it is doubtful this mystery will ever be solved.
Updated July 31, 2016
Originally published April 2015