By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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A short man in a windbreaker, Mayhew says he is "neither rich nor crazy." He explains that he was a coin and metal collector in the early 1960s when he became fascinated with all the metal objects that were created with Kennedy's likeness after his death. He produced a book on the subject, then went on to collect all manner of Kennedy memorabilia. It's a hobby he likens to a disease.
He was in search of more memorabilia when he came to Dallas in 1970 and attended an auction of 20 parcels of D. Harold Byrd's real estate, including the building leased to the Texas School Book Depository. He wasn't even a registered bidder, he says, but wound up offering $650,000 for the property. He claims he beat out two other bidders, including an entrepreneur who was going to raze the building and sell it off at a dollar a brick.
"It was just a piece of real estate everyone wanted to forget," Mayhew says.
Mayhew explains he wasn't sure what he was going to do with the building--or how he was going to pay for it. At the time, he says, he was making $100,000 yearly working for a music company. He eventually seized on the idea of turning the building into a "first-rate museum."
Shortly after he bought the building, the Texas School Book Depository moved out. But not before one of their employees gave him an affidavit, he says, confirming that D. Harold Byrd had instructed a workman to remove a window from the Sixth Floor. But "he went to the wrong side of the building," Mayhew claims, "and took it from the southwestern corner."
Afraid that a vacant building was more susceptible to vandals, Mayhew says he hired two carpenters to remove the two windows and the surrounding casement that comprised the sniper's nest and replace them with identical windows from the building's north side. Mayhew says he stored the original windows in Dallas for 20 years.
Mayhew insists that several wealthy Dallasites, whom he refuses to name, initially backed his plans for a museum. He quit his job to work on it full-time, spending weeks on end in Dallas and living in the building, where he began housing assassination artifacts. He claims to have spent more than $10,000 on architectural renderings of the proposed museum.
But the city hated his idea. The Dallas Times Herald, he says, ran a full-page cartoon lampooning his idea with a caricature of a museum showing a neon arrow pointing up to the sixth floor sniper's perch. Esquire magazine chided his plans in its annual Dubious Achievement Award issue, asking who was going to get the JFK chicken franchise.
Mayhew says that while the local campaign against him raged, he was also fending off an attempt by the state's Commission to Commemorate JFK to get the Texas Legislature to seize the building from him. Meanwhile, Mayhew recalls that city planners repeatedly rebuffed his attempts to get building permits, once claiming that the building's wooden interior was not fit for refurbishing.
His backers eventually pulled out, and he was hard-pressed to find new ones. He was falling behind on his $6,000-a-month payments, but he claims that the president of Republic National Bank was going to give him an extension. He says he vowed to fight foreclosure on the grounds that the building was his homestead.
"I had no income, a building producing no revenue that was costing me $6,000 a month, and all I ever received was constant blows from the city and state," Mayhew says. "The pressure was mounting."
In the summer of 1972, a small fire broke out in the building. The police charged one of Mayhew's employees, Winfred Anderson, with arson. Anderson pleaded guilty and received probation; he also implicated Mayhew as the person who was behind the fire--which Mayhew vehemently denies. The police, Mayhew insists, let him know that they would arrest him if he set foot in Dallas County again.
Not only does Mayhew profess his innocence, he claims he was framed in a convoluted plot to keep him away from Dallas so he would lose the building. Two weeks after the fire was set, the bank foreclosed on the building, which D. Harold Byrd promptly re-purchased. The city, Mayhew says, confiscated Mayhew's memorabilia left inside the building.
Mayhew says he went back to Nashville a broken man. His wife left him and took his two children to live in New York. He still nursed his idea of building a museum: A year or two later, he hooked up with Gerald Jay Steinberg, a Washington, D.C.-area dentist who claimed to have the largest Kennedy collection in the world. Together they opened an antique store in Georgetown, while they set about cataloging their combined collection for future display. On weekends, Mayhew says, he commuted by bus to New York to try and patch up his marriage--to no avail.
Mayhew's relationship with the dentist soured after just five months. Both men accuse each other of stealing a chunk of their respective collections. Steinberg says that Mayhew claimed to have the sixth-floor window back then, but Steinberg says he never saw it.