The Associated Press wrongly identified a man in a picture published Thursday in The Washington Post as John W. Hinckley Jr., who has been arrested in the attempted assassination of President Reagan. The picture was taken at a Nazi meeting in St. Louis in 1978.

John W. Hinckley Jr., President Reagan's accused assailant, had an obsession with actress Jodie Foster that went beyond infatuation to a long an ominous cross-country courtship, according to sources and the full text of a letter addressed to her.

"As you well know by now, I love you very much," reads the letter, found in Hinckley's hotel room and signed with his name. "The past seven months I have left you dozens of poems, letters and messages in the faint hope you would develop an interest in me."

When that interest never developed, despite telephone calls and a stakeout of her college dormitory, sources said, Hinckley set out to impress the 18-year-old actress with what the letter termed a "historical deed," a deed that federal investigators have tentatively determined was the motive for Monday's shooting.

"Jodie," the letter reads, "I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you, whether it be in total obscurity or whatever.

"I will admit to you that the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I've got to do something now to make you understand in no uncertain terms that I am doing all of this for your sake."

"Jodie," the letter ends, "I'm asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historical deed to gain your respect and love. I love you forever. John Hinckley."

The letter, neatly written on lined paper, was dated 12:45 p.m. Monday. Hinckley allegedly shot Reagan and three others as the president left the Washington Hilton Hotel at about 2:55 p.m.

In a news conference yesterday on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where she is a freshman, Foster said that she had never "met, spoke to or in any way associated" with Hinckley, a 25-year-old drifter and son of a wealthy western oilman.

She acknowledged that she had received several pieces of unsolicited correspondence signed, "John W. Hinckley or JWH" during the fall of last year.

"I threw them all away," Foster said in a prepared statement. "This was not uncommon as I received a great deal of similar unsolicited correspondence.

"At the beginning of March, I received three or four notes similarly signed. On March 6, I gave them to my college dean who gave them to campus police. These are now in the custody of the FBI."

The letter found at the Park Central Hotel here suggested that its writer had earlier mentioned the attack on Reagan to Foster. But, the actress said yesterday, "In none of these letters or notes I received was any mention, reference or implication ever made as to violent acts against anyone, nor was the president ever mentioned."

When the FBI contacted her Monday night to inform her of a possible connection between the notes and the assassination attempt, Foster said, she felt shocked. "I felt very bad, frightened, distressed," she said. "I acted very badly. Cried, I guess."

Asked by a reporter why she cried, she answered, "I don't know."

Hinckley stayed at the Park Plaza Hotel in New Haven for three days last September, and March 1 and 2, 1981, according to Wednesday editions of the New Haven Register.

Yesterday hotel officials there refused to confirm or deny the story, but a bartender at the Top of the Park restaurant recognized Hinckley from a photograph and said he had served him more than once last fall, according to the Yale Daily News.

On one occasion, according to the bartender, Hinckley spent close to three hours drinking beer there. He showed newspaper clippings of Foster to other patrons, the bartender said, and claimed he was her boyfriend.

Hinckley is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing today in U.S. District Court here on charges of attempted assassination of a president and assault on a federal employee -- a Secret Service officer wounded in the attack. Other charges stemming from the wounding of a D.C. police officer and the president's press secretary, James S. Brady, are under consideration.

Hinckley is now being represented by lawyer Vincent J. Fuller of the firm of Williams & Connolly, who asked U.S. Magistrate Authur L. Burnett yesterday that the preliminary hearing be waived and that a routine psychiatric examination of Hinckley be canceled. Burnett denied both requests.

Yesterday, a forensic psychiatrist spent about three hours interviewing Hinckley at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, where Hinckley is being held without bond.

The two-page letter, addressed but not mailed to Foster, sketched a portrait of a lonely, shy and desperate man almost pleading for the affections of the young starlet.

"Although we talked on the phone a couple of times, I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself," the letter reads. "Besides my shyness, I honestly did not wish to bother you with my constant presence.

"I know the many messages left at your door and in your mailbox were a nuisance, but I felt it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you."

A source familiar with the investigation said yesterday that the discrepancy between the letter's claim of telephone conversations with Foster and the actress' statement that she had never spoken to Hinckley is understandable if the suspect made anonymous calls to Foster.

Sources said that Hinckley had apparently followed Foster to New Haven last fall, when she began her studies at Yale, and the letter suggested that its writer had staked out Foster when she became a college coed:

"I feel very good about the fact you at least know my name and how I feel about you. And by hanging around your dormitory I've come to realize that I'm the topic of more than a little conversation, however full of ridicule it may be. At least you know that I'll always love you."

The letter indicates a recognition that an attack on the president could be suicidal. "There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now."

But, the writer concludes, "By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me. This letter is being written an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel."

The letter is signed, "I love you forever, John Hinckley."

The contents of the letter were pieced together through a series of interviews with sources familiar with it. The letter was the centerpiece of a whole catalogue of personal items that the FBI removed from Hinckley's room at the Park Central Hotel, 18th and G streets NW, according to knowledgeable sources.

Investigators also found in the room a receipt for purchase of a .38-caliber handgun [Reagan was shot with a .22], a newspaper clipping listing the president's schedule for the day of the shooting and another newspaper article that contained the lyrics of some John Lennon songs, the sources said.

There were some reports that a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President Kennedy was found in the room as well, but sources close to the investigation could not confirm this yesterday.

The FBI's inventory of these items, said to number more than a dozen pages, was returned with a search warrant, and has been sealed by court officials.

Law enforcement officials spent part of the day yesterday reviewing videotapes of the shootings. The tapes have been described as "extraordinary" by one law enforcement source.

"There are six sounds of shots on the tapes," the source said, and some film does show a person shooting.

Thomas Baker, a ranking special agent at the Washington field office of the FBI, said that investigators have taken special precautions because of past criticism of the probes of major assassinations and assassination attempts.

All of the items in Hinckley's hotel room were photographed, Baker said, and the entire room was dusted for fingerprints -- even though fingerprints are not normally taken when a suspect is already under arrest.

Within hours of the assassination attempt, Baker said, FBI agents videotaped a reenactment of the shooting outside the hotel, with various agents playing the part of the participants and wearing large signs on their chests to indicate whom they were standing in for.

Baker said that FBI offices throughout the country are tracing Hinckley's past activities. "We want to know where he has been for the past year," Baker said. "We don't want to have anything like 1963 [after the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas] where people are still asking about whether there were two gunmen and whether there was a second or third shot."

The FBI has also seized items as a result of a search conducted at the home of Hinckley's parents outside Evergreen, Colo., a wealthy suburb of Denver.

Law enforcement officials investigating the case firmly believe that Hinckley acted alone Monday. "We've found no evidence whatsoever to indicate a conspiracy," said Thomas P. DeCair, a spokesman for the Justice Department.

Investigators are still trying to determine the identity of a woman who telephoned the hotel several times Monday and left messages for Hinckley while he was out, sources said yesterday.

Hinckley is the son of John W. Hinckley Sr., who is chairman of the board of Vanderbilt Energy Corp., a Denver-based petroleum exploration company. Young Hinckley's family lived in a fashionable Dallas suburb while he was growing up.

In recent years, however, Hinckley seemed to have become estranged from the family, traveling about the country without their knowledge, and living in cheap motel rooms near the family home. At one point, Hinckley joined a neo-Nazi organization, but was expelled because the group's leaders considered him "extremist" and "too violent."

Hinckley's mother, Joanne, told a reporter immediately after the shooting that she was unaware that her son was in Washington, and broke down when informed he was charged with shooting the president. Later, the family disclosed that Hinckley had been under psychiatric care for five months and taking Valium, a tranquilizer.

In Denver, Baton Rouge, La., and Los Angeles yesterday, federal agents pursued possible clues to Hinckley's past in apartment houses and in official records.

Within an hour of the Monday shooting, six Secret Service agents appeared at an apartment house in a rundown section of Hollywood.

Doris Henson, resident manager of the building, told a reporter yesterday that Hinckley had lived there in a $100-a-month single unit sometime in 1976, and that agents had taken away all records pertaining to his stay there. Agents also visited several other apartment buildings in Hollywood, and confiscated records.

Foster's most famous movie role was that of a runaway teenage hooker in the 1975 film "Taxi Driver," which some investigators feel has a plot with a bizarre parallel to the Hinckley case. In that film, the driver, a mentally troubled Vietnam veteran, stalks a political candidate and prepares to assassinate the politician before being scared off by a security agent.

It is not known if Hinckley ever saw the movie.

Law enforcement sources said yesterday that an anonymous letter describing a plot to kidnap Foster at Yale was sent to FBI headquarters here.

Agents are now trying to determine, one source said, if the abduction plan could be connected to the Hinckley case.

The source said Foster was informed of the abduction plan, which apparently was never attempted.