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Laura Frances Kittrell was born 12 January 1918 in Cisco, Texas. Her mother was the former Frances Louise Wasson. Her father was William Henderson Kittrell, a prominent Texan. William was raised in Cisco, the son of a minister with the Church of the Living God. In 1920, the family was living with William’s parents in Cisco. It was a loaded house—nine people were there, including three Lauras: William’s mother, his sister (one of a pair of twins), and his daughter. At the time, William was a furniture salesman. His sisters, Laura and Lucy, would go on to be well-known Cisco citizens, Laura a longtime postmaster, and Lucy a schoolteacher.
William supposedly attended the University of Texas for a brief stint, then moved his family to Dallas—by this time Laura two siblings had joined Laura, Louise, born in 1920, and William III, born in 1922. The elder William founded the Texas Press Clipping Bureau and became an important figure in Democratic politics, a lobbyist and influential leader. In 1930, the family rented a house on Lewis Street for $37.50 per month, and William listed his occupation as a newspaper advertiser. This designation probably related to his press clipping service: at the time, it was hard for people to keep abreast of all relevant news stories printed around the country (or world) and press-clipping services offered to collate and sell material on any subject, producing what were essentially dossiers.
He had also served as the 1928 secretary to the Texas delegation at the Democratic convention (and would do so again in 1932). The year of the census, he also managed the Edgar E. Witt’s successful campaign for lieutenant governor. William belonged to a progressive Southern democratic faction. He was on a campaign to pass a relief bond in 1933, when the Depression was at its worst. He would later stand against an anti-Roosevelt faction.
According to news reports, Laura Frances graduated from Highland Park high school, then Texas Christian University. (The newspaper, though, spelled her middle name with an I instead of an E.) Assuming this all went as usually scheduled, she would have graduated from college about 1940. The census for that year refines the point a bit: she was listed as having completed her fourth year of college and was employed: she was a government case worker. Based on her later occupational history, this would likely have been as an employment counselor, or whatever the equivalent was at the time. She was living at home, with the rest of her family.
The Kittrells became involved with the War effort. Her father was stationed in North Africa and Turkey for a short-stint as a Lend-Lease officer, and would help to organize the UN meeting in San Francisco, 1945. Her brother joined the army air force in 1944 after graduating from the University of Texas. In April 1945, the B-29 which he co-piloted went missing over Tokyo. Laura may or may not have been part of the American Red Cross already, I don’t know, but news reports have it that after her brother went missing she requested oversea service and went to Guam, where she investigated his last days, meeting some of his service associates. She was in Guam for six months, and left for the United States in March of 1946.
Information about Kittrell is harder to come by after the 1940s, but she did pop up here and there, because of her occupation. In 1963, Kittrell worked for the Texas Employment Commission. In the course of her duties, she helped a man named Lee Harvey Oswald . . . yes, *that* Oswald. Later, after this Oswald went to work at the Texas School Book Depository, Kittrell met with another man named Oswald. After the JFK assassination the next month, Kittrell took on her own investigation, eventually deciding that this second Oswald was actually Curtis Laverne Crafoord. She would tell her story to the FBI in 1966, and again to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. Her story would then become grist for alternative theories of Kennedy’s assassination. (She wrote a letter to “Time” magazine, published 15 December 1975: “To think that you still believe the Warren Report. I do look forward to a future issue featuring the tooth-fairy story.”)
Laura Kittrell never seems to have married. She outlived all of her immediate family. William Henderson II, her father, died in 1966. Her mother passed on 1988. Louise, her sister, died four years later, in 1992. She seems to have still been in Dallas as late as that year, but at some point presumably moved to Taylor county.
She died there on 10 June 2000. Laura F. Kittrell was 82. She was buried at Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park, where her mother and father were also interred.
Kittrell’s most public skepticism of the official position came after the death of the Fortean Society, and so cannot really be used as evidence of her beliefs when she joined. But there are other reasons to suspect that she was disinclined to believe government pronouncements on controversial matters—even if (or maybe because) she worked for the government and seems to have shared at least some of her father’s progressive political inclinations.
Kittrell’s Fortean career, based on the evidence I have found, was quite short, and mostly opaque. The entirety of it is composed of two mentions in Doubt from the mid- to late-1950s. I do not know if she ever read Fort, or what drew her to the Fortean Society, nor what kept here there, though a few suggestions can be inferred from her contributions to Thayer’s Fortean magazine.
Kittrell’s first mention came in Doubt 47 (January 1955). The reference, though, is a generic one—Kittrell is listed in a paragraph of acknowledgments—that may have had something to do with anti-fluoridation reports (the credits were appended to a column on the topic) but also may not have. It is impossible from this mention to even be sure that Thayer referred to Laura F. Kittrell, because only the surname was included, though subsequent evidence strongly supports the idea that Laura had sent in the material. That most likely being the case, she was thus a member as early as the end of 1954. I am not sure what would have brought her to the Fortean Society at this time, though her father’s business may have provided an impetus: since she seems to have been somehow involved in the clipping service, she may have noted a mention to the Fortean Society in a news report.
That speculation is based on her second (and final) appearance in Doubt, issue 56 (March 1958). Thayer devoted this “Doubt” to Sputnik—he thought the evidence for them spurious at best—in the course of which he mentioned “phenomena” in Levelland, Texas, on the night of Saturday, 2 November 1957. Thayer did not disclose the nature of the phenomena, but contemporaneous newspapers report a fiery “thing” that flashed through the sky—as reported by several witnesses—and seemed to land on a highway, though it was not found. It was described as a 200-foot long egg of fire. This was a month after Sputnik was launched. A number of people said the ball was a space ship. Later investigations by the government, though, suggested there were fewer witnesses than originally reported, the stories were inconsistent, and the most likely explanation was ball lightning.
Thayer then went on: “In addition to the fine coverage from the national press by faithful members everywhere, the Society had the unique advantage of a member almost on the spot. That is MFS Laura Kittrell who owns a news clipping service in Dallas and heads a local UFO group. From her we received maps of the township and annotated diagrams of the events and interviews with eyewitnesses. In a more nearly normal issue this would make a feature story. Alas—we can only relate it to the Sputs—for they have taken over.” He then noted that the sighting occurred the very day Sputnik II was supposed to have been launched, and it reportedly passed over Moscow at the same time the events in Levelland unfolded. Similar phenomena then occurred in White Sands, N.M., the next day.
Thayer’s exact point here is obscure to me—he wanted to cast aspersions on the Sputnik reporting and leave open other possibilities, which he did, but I am not clear what exactly he thought was going on. At any rate, though, we do learn some more about Kittrell. It is this mention that allowed me to connect the name to Laura Frances—the Dallas home and the relationship with the clipping bureau provided the necessary evidence (though there is some room for my being wrong). She remained a member. And she displayed the same interest in investigating a matter for herself that had driven her to Guam when her brother disappeared and had her looking into the identity of the second Oswald a few years later. This was, no doubt, a Fortean trait, the need to get into the weeds and make discoveries on her own, not taking the word of officials.
The report also shows that she was interested in flying saucers—interested enough to head up her own group. This may not be exactly correct: Thayer also had her owning the news clipping bureau that was actually owned by her father. But it does suggest she was devoted to the subject. I obviously do not know when she took up UFOs, nor her opinion on them, nor, for that matter, to which group she belonged: my searches have come up empty. But it does explain how she might have learned about the Fortean Society, If she was collecting clippings on flying saucers for her own use, she likely came across the name of the Society. And if flying saucers were the main focus of her unorthodox views—or her only one—then she might not have heard about the Society until the early 1950s, which could account for the timing of her appearance in “Doubt.” (There was a mention of the Fortean Society in relation to flying saucers in a Vermont paper, August 1952, and several similar mentions across the country in 1951.)
There’s also evidence here for speculating about why she did not appear in “Doubt” again. To be sure, there are plenty of possibilities: she was too busy; the Society folded not long after, when Thayer died in August 1959; she sent in material, but it was not used. But there’s also the possibility that she was irritated by the short-shrift Thayer gave what seems to have been a great deal of work. By his own admission, it should have been a feature, but he chose not to give the material its due. He blames Sputnik, but there is no reason he could not have devoted space to all of her Fortean investigation in a subsequent issue. It is exactly the kind of detailed work he wanted from Forteans, and yet, when he got it, chose to sit on it—a reflection, perhaps, of his souring on Forteanism.
Whatever the case, it was the last mention of Kittrell in the pages of “Doubt.” Soon enough, she would have other conspiracies to investigate.
Thanks to Malcolm Blunt,
Scans by me.
Fourth Decade article in 2 parts
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