“If any one of us had gotten to where we could break ‘the story of the century,’ and that was the conspiracy behind the assassination of Kennedy, no lap dog reporter would have been sitting out there waiting for the story to break…”
After delivering his hometown newspaper as a boy in West Texas, Jim Ewell became interested in a career in journalism. After attending Hardin-Simmons College, Ewell began as a cub reporter for the Abilene Reporter News. Specializing in crime reporting and interested in police work, he became a part time crime beat reporter for the Dallas Times Herald in 1953, and by 1963 had become a full-time day side crime beat reporter for The Dallas Morning News. In that capacity, Ewell observed the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas Theatre and wrote extensively about the events of that tragic weekend. Scheduled for retirement in 1998, he currently serves as the Public Information Director for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. He is commonly regarded as one of the top aides under Sheriff J.C. Bowles and has been extremely helpful to researchers throughout the years. Ewell and his family still reside in the same home in DeSoto, Texas, as they did on the day of the assassination.
The Dallas Morning News was a republican newspaper in a sea of
Democrats across the Southwest, and though Dallas was a conservative city, it
was probably an exaggeration that Dallas was that ultra-conservative. I never
felt that we were so far politically to the right that it would intoxicate our
thinking as sane people. I don’t think that was the case. If nothing else,
there were some incidents that played into the mind-set that Dallas was this
ultra-right stronghold such as the little incident involving Adlai Stevenson
when he came to Dallas and was bumped on the head with a small sign. The police
were never convinced that that was an actual attempt by that woman to strike Mr.
Stevenson. The story we heard was that she was bumped from behind as she was
trying to get up in his face with the picket which resulted in his being conked
on the forehead. Well, the press made quite a bit of that. They thought it was
an insult. Then there was the spitting incident involving Lyndon Baines Johnson
when he was Vice-President as he and Lady Bird were crossing the street between
two main hotels.
But on the morning of the Kennedys’ arrival, The Dallas Morning News printed the “Welcome Mr. Kennedy” full page statement. It created a great deal of controversy because the ad alleged that Kennedy was a traitor. I think this all fell back on his betrayal, to their thinking, of the pullback of American forces from the Bay of Pigs actions in Cuba that might have toppled Fidel Castro. There was also the idea that he was leaning toward the communists since the ad alleged that he was a communist sympathizer.
Kennedy was in Texas to try to shore up factions between the party leaders of the Texas Democrats. The News, as I recall, assigned about nine reporters to different areas of Kennedy’s appearance in the city. I was assigned to watch his arrival at Dallas Love Field.
That morning, when I arrived at the airport, there was a large turnout of school kids and rank and file people. There had been a light rain, and as we waited for Air Force One to arrive coming over from Forth Worth, it seemed that when he was spotted the crowd stirred when Air Force One approached Love Field, the clouds parted, the light rain quit, and the sun broke out, making it a gorgeous morning. I though it was most fitting that all this occurred for the arrival of Kennedy.
Jackie, dressed in her pink suit and hat, which we all remember, was given a large bouquet of red roses. The crowd was absolutely charmed by the President and the First Lady. He was so taken aback, I think, by the reception he got that that’s when he broke away from the Secret Service and went to the fence line and went down the row. I was watching all of that, having a pass to be inside the gate as a member of the press. Once the arrival and the greetings were over, the motorcade got started on the appointed route that would take them to downtown Dallas. Now that was the end of my assignment because all I could tell the rewrite people was what I’ve already described here. I thought it was a very, very warm reception! They had to be impressed.
So I routinely got back in my vehicle and, instead of trying to follow the route of the motorcade down Lemmon Avenue and approaching the east side of downtown, I took the route back on the Stemmons Expressway. My intention was to go back to the pressroom at police headquarters since that was the quickest way for me to get around.
Had everything gone routinely, I would have simply called in my notes to a rewrite unless they would have wanted a separate story about what I had seen at the airport. That wasn’t likely because there were bigger and better things to come ahead in the Kennedys’ visit in Dallas. But the setting was absolutely very cordial. In fact, I think the Kennedys were still swept up in this warmth in the motorcade through downtown Dallas. Now that’s the real irony of it! At the west end of downtown Dallas was the sniper waiting for the Kennedy motorcade. They were just a jump away from getting back on Stemmons. That’s where I met the Kennedy motorcade.
After the shooting, I ran into the motorcade, but it was stretched out, speeding, and I knew immediately that something was wrong, although I had no radio communications at the time to tell me what had taken place. I could see the Secret Service agent hanging on the turtleback. My first thought was that a pedestrian crossing Stemmons had been hit by one of the cars in the motorcade because that was five lanes each way, and pedestrians were crossing that ten lane freeway to get on the side closest to the motorcade. I could not believe that people were risking their lives to cross the freeway in front of my traffic and the northbound traffic. That was the only thing that I could think of that had happened.
When I first saw the motorcade, it must have been halfway between the Triple Underpass and the Trade Mart, somewhere beyond Continental. The speed was what attracted me. First I saw the lead car with Police Chief Jess Curry, then I saw the Kennedys, the Presidential limousine, and then I remember there were three buses carrying the White House Press Corps. All of this was strung out! As I came under the triple underpass, coming off Stemmons up Commerce, there was an explosion of ant hills, so to speak, with people running in every direction. This was within minutes of the assassination. There was a swarm of people mainly over on the Elm Street side going down toward the Triple Underpass.
I turned on my car radio, and I remember that KLIF, the lead spot-news radio station in those days, owned by Gordon McLendon, had a female telephone clerk in the Dallas Police Dispatching Office saying that shots had been fired at the Kennedy motorcade. So I just went up Commerce Street and then went down into the basement of police headquarters where two days later Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby. As I got out of my car, parking it there in the press lot, Sergeant Jerry Hill, who at one time was a former Dallas Times Herald crime beat reporter, came running out, and I said, “Jerry, what the hell’s going on?”
And his exact words were, “Some son of a bitch just shot Kennedy!” He then ran around and jumped in a black and white squad car; there was a uniform officer behind the wheel already, so I just ran over there and got in the back seat. This officer drove us back from east to west through downtown on the most circuitous route I can recall, and we were back there at the School Book Depository probably in less than two minutes.
When we arrived the police had their squad cars across the intersection in a kind of circular position. There were officers still standing behind and in front of the squad cars training their shotguns up to the windows of the School Book Depository. We found ourselves standing right out in the middle of the intersection of Houston and Elm. I’m going to say this was probably inside of fifteen minutes from the time that I had seen the swarm of people near the Triple Underpass and heard on the radio that shots had been fired. It happened that quickly!
I had been a newspaper reporter for about fifteen years, and I thought that I was a seasoned professional. But now that the weight of this was coming down on me, I was beginning to get woozy. I felt light headed. But I do remember standing there with the police not knowing if they still had somebody trapped upstairs, or if there was going to be an outbreak of gunfire if they exposed somebody. And again, we didn’t know how badly hurt Kennedy was, at least I didn’t. Meanwhile Jerry Hill worked his way up to the sixth floor, leaned out an open window, and he had what was thought to be Oswald’s little fried chicken lunch. It was in a little pop box. Jerry was holding that box and holding up one of the chicken bones exclaiming to everybody that listened to him down on the street that the fried chicken was what he had been eating. About that time there was a commotion around one of the squad cars, and we could hear a radio saying that an officer had been shot in Oak Cliff.
Looking back on it, and this is more amazing to me right now, all this time I had never made contact with my city desk. I did not have a walkie-talkie like they do today. They didn’t know where in the hell I was! They probably didn’t know where the hell a lot of the Dallas News reporters were because events were moving so quickly that you had to stay up with it, and you had no time to stop and let them know what you were doing and what they could do to help you.
But, nonetheless, I left the scene of where an attack, a shooting attack, had been staged against the President of the United States, to go to investigate, as a reporter, the reported shooting of a Dallas police officer. Now keep in mind, in 1963, you DID NOT shoot policemen! You DID NOT strike policemen! Only in very rare cases did you strike a police officer. Look at what’s changed since then! And yet, I left the location at the School Book Depository and jumped into a car driven by Captain Westbrook with Sergeant Stringer. I rode in the back seat as we sped across into Oak Cliff by taking the Houston Street Viaduct right beside the Dallas News.
When we arrived in Oak Cliff, I got a chance to go into a convenience store, McCandles’ Minute Market it was called in those days, just down from the Marsailles Public Library, and I did get to make a phone call to the city desk asking them to send me a photographer. They didn’t know what I was doing in Oak Cliff. This particular editor was too overpowered by what was going on downtown to pay any attention to what I was trying to tell him, and I know I came out saying, “You know I’ve got to have a photographer out here!”
As I stepped out of this convenience store, next door to it was a two story boarding house, and there I saw Bill Alexander with an automatic pistol stalking across the balcony very carefully. Alexander always impressed me because, being an assistant district attorney, he was one of those guys from the prosecutor’s office that you saw with the cops. He was a squad car prosecutor. You very seldom saw the district attorney outside of his office.
From there we proceeded to a side street down from where they said J.D. Tippit had been shot not far from East Jefferson. There was another police car there as they were examining a jacket next to the curb which had apparently been located by one of the policemen after Oswald had thrown it down as he ran toward Jefferson. I had a jacket just like it. I remember it as being a light tan windbreaker. I was with Westbrook as we all went over to examine the jacket because it was the only tangible thing we had at the moment that belonged to the killer. In fact, I held the jacket in my hands. I remember that they were talking about a water mark on it that was obviously made by a dry cleaning shop.
They were discussing it when the report came in that the person they thought might be the police officer’s assailant had gone into the Texas Theatre. Now we were on East Jefferson, so I’m thinking that we were about five blocks from that location. Immediately, Captain Westbrook and Sergeant Stringer ran back to their car, which was across the street, and I ran to jump in the backseat. By that time, they were already turning out and accelerating. When I got in the backset with the door still hanging open, I came out of the car hanging onto the door. They slowed down long enough for me to get back in, as I could have been flung out against the gravel into a curb if I hadn’t held on.
Anyway, when we arrived at the Texas Theatre, we parked right in front and everybody jumped out and went into the lobby. There were other police cars getting there, too. I was very familiar with the Texas Theatre, having lived close by back when we were a younger married couple. At that time, they had some kind of stairway up to the balcony, and I remember somebody kept shouting, “Turn on the house lights! Will somebody please turn on the house lights?”
For some reason, instead of following the police into the main part of the theater, the lower floor, I went up these stairs into the balcony. And there, there must have been about fifteen or twenty high school age boys up there watching. They’d skipped school to watch double feature war movies. One of them was “War Is Hell.”
Then there was a commotion. I stepped to the railing where I could look down onto this. Just about that time the house lights came up and Nick McDonald made his move on Oswald. So I’m in a position looking down on where Oswald sat. not knowing who he was. Then I saw the fight that broke out. First, Nick was shouting, and then there was just a swarm of officers that came in. What I’m describing is what appeared to be a football play from above. John Toney remembered that some officer screamed out that they were breaking his arm. Another officer, Paul Bentley, the Chief Polygraph Examiner for the Dallas Police Department, who was well known to us all, came out of there with a broken ankle. What I saw rather astounded me. Someone was trying to hold the barrel of a shotgun, or train the barrel of a shotgun down among the heads of these officers. I thought, “What’s he going to do with the shotgun?” I didn’t know what was going on, but this person was holding a shotgun; I did see that. And it all happened in a matter of seconds!
When the fight broke out down there, these kids stampeded out of the balcony, then I followed them down. The next thing I recall is that I was out on the street with the car that I arrived in between me and the officers bringing Oswald out of the theater as they kind of separated the crowd and made an aisle for him to come through to get to the car. I’d say that I was about ten to twelve feet away from Oswald at the time. During this sequence of events, I was distracted by the tone of a teenage girl, and we used this in the story because at that time, for teenagers, especially teenage girls to be so profane was just very uncommon. But this girl shouted, “Kill the son of a bitch!” And the Dallas News let us use that. Being a strong family newspaper in 1963, we still used that because it was very pertinent to describe to the readers how supercharged the area was. This was about thirty-five minutes after the shooting of Tippit, so the word apparently had already gotten out around that part of Oak Cliff that they were looking for a cop killer. Evidently this teenage girl got swept up into it to the point that she was that emphatic about what she thought ought to be done to this person later identified as Oswald. There were some other shouts and threats made right there by the crowd which had been brought there by the arrival of all these squad cars with sirens screaming and then screeching up front and also by the arrival of squad cars in the alley behind the Texas Theatre as they came in from the back as well. It was obviously an ugly crowd, but not to the point that they were going to overpower the police officers and try to get the prisoner. Oswald then took my place in the backseat of the same car that I arrived in. So when they left with him, I stood there, stranded. I then hitchhiked a ride with a man in a pickup truck.
By now my mind was just a swirl because things had been moving so fast that I was getting scrambled. It was on the truck radio that we heard that they had pronounced Kennedy dead. That was the first that I realized that he had suffered fatal wounds. The next thing I remember was that I was out on the street. I was actually standing out in the street in front of the Dallas News Building on Houston Street.
I was just barely out of the truck when I saw driving up one of our evening editors, Louis Harris, who was just coming in for the night edition. “Louie, take me to the police station,” I said, as I commandeered his car. Louie went into the station with me, and we went up to the third floor. At that time, there still wasn’t the congestion that later occurred with all the media coming in. We got into the Homicide and Robbery offices there on the third floor, and in a back room where there was kind of a small squad room sat Oswald.
They had just put him at a table that they used to write their reports on. The room was no larger than eight by twelve at the most with one or two metal tables and some chairs. The detectives normally used it as a squad room. This would have all been just after two o’clock as they drove him straight from the Texas Theater, and it would have taken them no more than fifteen minutes to get him back downtown.
But that’s the first opportunity that I had to get back to the telephone and call in to let them know what I’d been doing. It turned out that I was probably the only reporter that I remember who was at the Texas Theatre. However, Hugh Aynesworth, who was a member of our staff, said he arrived at the Texas Theatre also. I didn’t see Hugh, but I know this; all the other press had been concentrating on the hospital and the School Book Depository. Now the word was out that a suspect had been arrested, and they were coming to police headquarters.
I remained at the police building until probably 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. the next morning because our final press run was starting around 2:00 A.M. I was able to get stories out to the office since we had a pressroom up there on the third floor right down from Homicide and Robbery, and all I had to do was go down to the pressroom and use the Dallas News telephone to call in.
By the next day, which was Saturday, it was almost impossible to make your way down that third floor hallway where all the detectives’ offices were located because all three major networks had set up cameras there in the intersection of the hallway. They had cables running down that hallway and out the windows to their sound trucks or their power sources out on the streets. They had cables dangling three floors down!
This naturally made it more difficult for us. We were cut off from our normal sources. Of course, we had the advantage over the out of town press because we were the local press, and we could capitalize on our close-in sources that we had developed through the years. These sources would include police officers who were around the actual events that day, although really I didn’t have to ask too many questions because I saw as much as what the police had seen, as far as the arrest of Oswald in the Texas Theatre. But we had a very good relationship with the police.
There was a lot of news to collect, You couldn’t miss it as it was happening there, and it was all concentrated in the building where we were because Oswald was there; that meant the district attorney was there and the FBI was all around us. But we relied mainly on the police sources. They were the people in front of the investigation more so than anybody else. The FBI, Secret Service, and all those people, whatever they were doing was typically out of sight of the press. But with the Dallas Police Department, it was out front.
We kept up with the investigation as Homicide reconstructed the events that led up to Tippit’s murder. But one thing that could never be answered was what caused Tippit to stop and question Oswald; we’ll never know. There was nobody else around to answer the question. I remember the police officers who knew Tippit said that one of his characteristics was to never look a person in the eye. When he would talk to people, he would look downward, and this might have been the case when he was dealing with Oswald. Apparently, he pulled up, rolled down the window and told Oswald to come over to the car. Then, for some reason for which I am not aware, he elected to get out of the car. As he stepped out, Oswald stepped aside to where he could fire across the hood of the car. By that time, Tippit’s dead!
Over the years, questions have been raised as to the number of police who arrived at the theater and how quickly they got there. And certainly, the arrest of Oswald was not routine. But how could you compare it with anything else that I was ever aware of? There had only been one other Dallas policeman killed in the line of duty in the previous twelve years or so, Slip Mullenax, who was a Vice Squad officer involved in plain clothes undercover work. I covered that. I went out with Captain Gannaway, who was in charge of the Special Services Bureau, which included Narcotics, Vice, and Intelligence. Mullenax was in a walk-up hotel, and the manager mistook him for a prowler or an assailant and shot him. Later he was exonerated. But in the case of Oswald, the police were tracking and caught up with the alleged killer of a buddy officer. I was at the police station till about 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. Saturday morning, and then I came back out here to DeSoto. We had just built our house here after trading a house in Oak Cliff. At that time, we had boxes stacked everywhere.
Saturday morning, I went to the Dallas News and back up again to the police station. By then, the police building was overloaded with the press! It looked like they were covering one of the national conventions!
That Saturday morning it was hard for Captain Will Fritz, leading the investigation, to come and go to his office. Everything was so tightly packed up there that it paralyzed police headquarters even though the detectives still had to continue their regular duties. The city just didn’t stop because of this; crime just didn’t stop. They still had to be involved with handling crime reports. But the fact is they were paralyzed by the log jam in that hallway on the third floor where most of the detectives’ offices were located on the east side of the building. On the west end of the floor were the executive offices for Chief Curry and all of his staff.
It’s a funny thing that nothing really moved on the story-line until Fritz or Chief Curry appeared or Oswald came out. So there was a lot of self-interviewing among the reporters. The local reporters were amused by it. But they were trying to grab on to any little thing.
I didn’t have any question about their professionalism. I recognized many of the reporters by their names and knew that they were outstanding reporters. Mainly these came from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Detroit Press. I felt those reporters stood out above everybody because they were smooth in how they handled themselves. They were not up there slugging it out. The television guys were doing that. They were always the pushy type. Of course, there’s always been that rivalry or friction between the print reporters and the television reporters.
But I think a lot of us locally were amazed and disgusted by the reports that we saw when the out of town newspapers came back to Dallas, or we saw the reports on national television. There were a lot of inaccuracies that we knew were inaccuracies! But you had to remember, too, that it would be the same if I went to a strange city trying to report on a story of this magnitude, not knowing the local turf. But, by and large, even though Oswald had been identified as a Marxist sympathizer and had married a Russian Communist, there were still those that didn’t want to believe that the leftists or those of the liberal side had anything to do with killing Camelot.
At the time, I didn’t know anything about Oswald other than he carried other identification. It was a Star-Telegram reporter from Fort Worth in the building there that immediately recognized the name, and he quickly circulated that this Oswald had to be the same one who had defected to Russia a number of years before. That supercharged the whole deal! Was this a Soviet assassination? Was it their way of getting back at Kennedy for his backing down the Soviets over the missile crisis?
The FBI could have answered many of our questions, but they were strictly a “no comment” organization, and they got away with it. Hoover managed to maintain such control of the FBI that the press could not penetrate it. Trying to penetrate federal law enforcement organizations just wasn’t done as might be done today. But it’s not much different today than it was then as far as the feds are concerned. They are still held at arm’s length.
One of the major developments by the Dallas News was that we obtained Oswald’s diary, which came later on. But, also, sometime after the initial weekend of the assassination, I obtained the report of Lieutenant Jack Revill which stated that the FBI knew of Lee Harvey Oswald and that he was in Dallas. This came from a conversation that Revill had with Agent James Hosty, who had been assigned as Oswald’s case officer.
This created a major controversy! Curry had that memorandum and announced its contents to the press. As a result, it turned the blame away from the Dallas police, who were receiving all the world wide blame for allowing this to happen. The question was: How could this guy smuggle a rifle into the School Book Depository and sit there and wait for the President? I remember Jesse Curry’s reply was that there were fifty thousand windows they’d have to cover on that parade route and you couldn’t guard all of those. When it was learned that the FBI knew all along that here was a defector, returning to the United States, and working in Dallas in a building on the very route of the motorcade, that so infuriated Hoover that he cut the Dallas police off from attending the National FBI Academy.
Anyway, I broke that story. After a while, I noticed that Dallas police were not getting called to go to the FBI Academy. They started picking officers from some of the smaller police departments around Dallas despite the fact that Dallas always had had a special connection with the FBI Academy. In fact, the police chief prior to Jesse Curry, Carl Hansson, had been one of their instructors at the Academy.
Aynesworth picked up on the story because he knew more about the repercussions of what it all meant. I had merely gotten hold of a memorandum that said that Agent James Hosty revealed that the FBI knew about Oswald and that he could be considered a potential risk to the President and that he was capable of doing this or something to that effect. Unfortunately, I don’t believe anybody got to talk to Hosty because the FBI shipped him out of town to Kansas City. There was “no comment” from any of the local agents either. As to Revill, I don’t recall whether I talked to him about it or not. I’m not sure that Curry would allow him to expand on it as this situation was handled strictly by the chief. This was a very sensitive issue.
I was assigned on Sunday morning to cover the transfer of Oswald from the city jail to the county jail on the west end of downtown Dallas. To me that was so routine. It was an exercise that would allow the press to get some additional footage of Oswald in custody. Of course, once he got into the county jail he would have been locked off unless his attorneys would have arranged for a news conference. But once he left police custody, that would have been the last that we’d have gotten to see him until he appeared in court.
But that Sunday morning I was fatigued, so I stayed here. I had lost all my energy. We still had to have a story for Monday morning’s paper, but I knew there were other things happening around the Kennedy story that would be built into the main story for Monday morning. We had a console television over in the corner of the living room, and my year and a half old son walked by and pulled on the button to the television. Immediately the focus was on the Kennedy memorial services at one of the big cathedrals in London. I stood right here drinking a cup of coffee and watched the proceedings of that service. About that time, a voice broke in and said, “We’re now taking you to the basement of Dallas City Hall.” And immediately, they cut in and I saw all the familiar people. The cameras were in position; I saw Captain Fritz, and about that time here came Leavelle with Oswald. Then, all of a sudden there’s this dark form that breaks in, and then you hear, POW!! And I’m standing here, helpless!
I quickly got on the phone and dialed the city desk and talked to Robbie Miller, who was an assistant to the city editor. He thought I was up there at the police station, He said, “We’ll get you some help right now!”
I told him, “Miller, I’m not there; I’m still in DeSoto!”
“Get your ass down there, now!”
The freeway not having been completed at that time was in sections, so I could remember cutting in to get on the freeway where it was open so I could make faster time. And the radio was reporting, without mentioning any names, that this person was well known to the Dallas police. I remembered that there was a guy by the name of Jack McDonald, who was one of those kind of guys. They called him “Motorcycle Jack” or “Bicycle Jack” because he was always riding a motorcycle or a bicycle, and he was always looking for stolen cars to collect a fifteen dollar finder’s fee. So he was always hanging around the police station. But I thought, it can’t be McDonald! How in the world could he…? That tells you that I had never heard of the name Jack Ruby, and I had been around the police station the better part of eight years. I had never heard of the name Jack Ruby!
When I got downtown and got back in the basement where I parked, I was impressed that even though I was well known around that building, I still had to have a special police pass displayed so I could get into the building. Now this was all really high level, heavy duty stuff because I’ve got to wear one of those.
I took the elevator and went up to the fourth floor, which was one floor above where CID was, and that was the Identification Division where they had all the mug shots, fingerprint files on one end; on this end was the admission desk or the public opening to the city jail. I asked them for a mug shot of Jack Ruby, and I got one. That’s the first time I realized that here was the guy that they’d arrested for killing Oswald. But get this, as I walked back to the elevator, there were two elevators, and I punched the button to go back to the third floor, to my right was a lawyer interview room or public room where they could visit prisoners and talk to them by phone looking through a window. There in that room was a lawyer I recognized talking to Jack Ruby. It was Tom Howard with the western hat on, the whole bit. He was well known to the police reporters because he had an office across the street from the police department. Looking back, since I knew Tom well, I could have walked over and said, “Tom, I’d like to talk to your client,” and I think he would have put him on right then and there! But I didn’t. I pushed the button, got on the elevator, and went back downstairs!
I don’t know who wrote our story that day. Hugh Aynesworth and I were too busy dictating notes into the newsroom. I don’t know who Hugh called in to write it, but we stayed up there until we milked everything we knew to write about it that Sunday till we just dropped. On a story of that size, one reporter can’t cover everything. He gets what he can, and he runs it into a rewrite man. Somebody would take your notes and they’d say, “From Ewell, 3:10 P.M.” In a story like this, you then bring in one of your heavy duty writers. Bob Baskin was our Washington Bureau chief; he was in town for the Kennedy visit. He and one of our columnists, Paul Crume, combined their writing talents for the main story-line on the Kennedy assassination. So I don’t know who they called in or who they had that Sunday afternoon to construct the story out of our notes because how could you continue watching everything as it was unraveling and go back and write a story? You had to unload your notes as quickly as possible so you could stay in position. By that time, other reporters from the Dallas News were getting there, too.
One of the big things that I remember about that Sunday was that Jack Beers, one of our photographers, had been assigned to that deadline. Originally, it had been assigned to another of our photographers, Joe Laird. But I had arranged the night before, Saturday night, before I left, who was going to be up there on Sunday morning. So Jack Beers took the assignment.
When Beers flashed off that famous photograph of Ruby bursting through and thrusting his pistol up, Aynesworth and I kept hearing reports from the city desk that we had one hell of a picture. We had the picture of the year! It was so good that we were going to run it on almost three-fourths of the entire front page on Monday, I believe close to the bottom. Then, later that evening, we heard the Times Herald had something.
When Beers flashed, Bob Jackson of the Times Herald flashed. It was in that split second that shows Oswald grabbing at his side that got Jackson the Pulitzer award. A split second!
Much has been made of Jack Ruby’s connections with the Dallas police. If he had that many connections, I think I would have seen him sometime in the eight years that I was around the station at that time. I think these stories are untrue. I think where they had a connection with Ruby was that the Vice Squad officers went to his nightclub, the Carousel.
There was also a Vice officer by the name of Tippitt, G.W. Tippitt. I remember that he was mainly a desk officer, but he spelled his name TIPPITT. J.D. spelled it with just one “T.” That’s what confused a lot of these writers. The story that was written was that J.D. Tippit was killed because he knew too much; he was one of those that consorted with Jack Ruby. That’s where they got confused. It just so happened that there were two officers by the name of Tippit.
If there’d ever been any connection between Oswald, Tippit, and Jack Ruby, we would be talking about it as if it happened today. It was never established! And I think that there was an all out intensive effort on the part of the press to be the first to find those connections, and there were some very good reporters in those days looking into that. Some have accused the press of cover-up. Even though we had our own office and parking privileges at the police department, to say that by having those, they were able to control us just simply wasn’t the case. If any one of us had gotten in to where we could break the “story of the century,” and that was the conspiracy behind the assassination of Kennedy, no lap dog reporter would have been sitting out there waiting for the story to break. We had some of the best newspapermen in the United States in Dallas trying to find those angles. You also had the best from the television networks.
Even in the Dallas News several reporters stayed hooked in to what they thought might be more to the story, more than just Oswald. They were assigned specifically to that role. We had reporters like Hugh Aynesworth who was accepted by the Dallas News as being a reporter who was still pursuing any kind of lead that came out. Aynesworth got into the bigger scene much more than I ever did. For instance, he was in the police department that Sunday morning just by chance. So when I called in and said that I wasn’t there, I could imagine that scene breaking and no Dallas News reporter being down there. It turned out that Aynesworth was there. Behind Aynesworth was another reporter, Earl Golz, of the Dallas News.
For the longest time, Golz was allowed to pursue that for the Dallas News. We didn’t have that many reporters who could stay hooked to the story or continue to look, say, six months later. They had to get back to other things. We didn’t have the luxury of the staff sizes that they have today. If the assassination happened today, with today’s same numbers and players in place, the assassination would have been covered by no less than seventy-five Dallas News reporters. They sent twenty-five to thirty to the Olympics in Los Angeles. They send that many to the national conventions. Can you imagine what they would have done with the assassination in Dallas, Texas?
But after the first six months when this story started settling back, the Warren Commission Report was out and they were concentrating on Johnson’s conduct of our growing involvement in Vietnam, I was very content, as a beat reporter, to fall back into my old routine as if it never happened. So when something would come up that might lend itself to another story about the assassination, I would simply pass it to the desk.
As a newspaperman, I never felt that I wanted to be involved in a story that was centered on the assassination of a president. I think every one of us felt that we had lost part of our soul by Kennedy’s death. And we couldn’t figure out how Dallas was going to work its way out of this. We knew that there was a lot of anger and that Dallas was blamed for his death. How could it be? Here was a guy that probably was deranged, in my thinking, that for some reason wanted to make a break in front of the American people that he had killed the President. But then Ruby has to be the most condemned player of that whole situation because he took away from the American people their chance to learn the real reason by Oswald in a trial court where all of this would have come out. He robbed the American people of those answers which has left many still doubting that one person could have killed the President. By the 1970s I think Dallas had finally come to grips with the assassination. Looking back on it, I think that if Oswald had not been arrested and identified as quickly as he was, and if Dallas had to go through a night with the assailant still at large and not even identified, I think the city would have been caught up in some serious heavy duty stuff. I think people would have blamed those who were identified as the leaders of the conservatives. There might have been actual physical assaults on those people; maybe a Tippit-like assassination of public officials in an act of revenge to get back at those for what had been done against the President. I really do! I think there’d have been bloodshed, outrage, and just fanaticism overtaking Dallas, But when they quickly identified Oswald, his connection as a defector from Forth Worth to Russia, you can see how quickly it turned. By that night, there was so much disbelief that somebody with Oswald’s connections, who was married to a Russian, was now the accused assassin of the President. I’ll always be grateful that he was captured before he could escape from the city. Otherwise, there is no telling what kinds of stories would have been reported by that night.
I continued on the same beat with the Dallas News until January 1981 after twenty-five years service. During that time, I saw the maturity of the city; it became more sophisticated. After leaving the Dallas News, I assumed the job of a public employee in a law enforcement organization that deals with the press on the opposite side.
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