DALLAS (CN) – The United States asked a federal judge to decide who owns a handwritten letter that Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to Ethel Kennedy, Robert Kennedy’s widow, shortly after Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968. Apparently, a plumber stole the letter from Ethel Kennedy’s home, and after the plumber died, his son, unaware of how his father obtained it, sold the letter to an archive, which resold it.
The letter was sold and resold, for higher prices, until one of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s sons learned of it and asked the government to step in.
The government, which holds the letter at the FBI Dallas field office, wants to know whether to give the letter to Ethel Kennedy or to the last person who had it, Richard Goodkin.
The government says in its interpleader petition that in the late 1960s and early 1970, plumbing contractor W.J. Bomback worked at Ethel Kennedy’s home in McLean, Va.
A Bomback employee, Russell Nuckols, died in 1999 and his son discovered the letter, had it authenticated and sold it to University Archives of Westport, Conn., for $6,000.
The letter was resold several times: for $25,000 in May 2001 to a collector in New Hampshire; it was traded in February 2004 for a letter written by Martha Washington and a letter signed by President William Henry Harrison; and that collector sold it in or around August 2004 to Goodkin “as repayment for a debt.” Goodkin estimated the value of the letter as $25,000 to $30,000, the government says.
Goodkin consigned the letter in July 2006 to Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, “and continues to maintain that he is the legitimate owner of the letter.”
Two months later, Max Kennedy, son of Ethel and Robert Kennedy, notified the FBI that Heritage had the apparently stolen letter.
“[Max] Kennedy advised the FBI that the letter was the personal property of his mother, Ethel Kennedy, and that neither she nor anyone else in the Kennedy family had given permission to be removed from the Kennedy home, or further sold, traded, or otherwise transferred,” according to the complaint.
The FBI notified Heritage in September “that the letter was the subject of a stolen goods investigation and the letter was removed from auction by Heritage,” the complaint states.
The FBI seized the letter with a search warrant in August 2009, “as part of a criminal investigation into whether a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2315, prohibiting the sale or receipt of stolen goods had occurred. That investigation is now concluded and no prosecution is expected.”
The FBI says it’s holding onto the letter due it its “personal nature and historical significance.”
Uncle Sam wants to know who gets the letter, and it wants both claimants enjoined from suing the United States in any other forum for claims to the letter.