Thirteen Years After

Where are they now?

Chances are you remember where you were and what you were doing around noon on November 22, 1963, more vividly than almost any other moment in the 13 years since then. The shock of learning that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas still lingers in the memory.

President Kennedy was scheduled to arrive in Dallas on that Friday in 1963 at 11:35 a.m. Less than an hour later, he had been shot, and by 1:07 p.m., he had been pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital. Forty-six minutes after he was shot, a Dallas policeman named J.D. Tippit was found fatally wounded at 10th and Patton Streets in Oak Cliff. Police cornered a suspect in Tippit’s murder at the Texas Theatre on West Jefferson one hour and fifty-five minutes after the first shot fired downtown. When the suspect was brought back to police headquarters, he was discovered to be the man police were searching for in connection with the President’s assassination as well. Two days later, millions of Americans sat watching their television screens on a Sunday morning as Jack Ruby murdered that suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald.

If our memories of that tragic weekend are strong, how much stronger must be those of the Dallas citizens who were eyewitnesses to those events or who, because of special circumstances, became participants in the events of that weekend and subsequent investigations? We located some of those people. One participant is now dead, but we spoke with a friend who was familiar with his experience. Here are their recollections of that weekend and their thoughts about the assassination today.

J.R. Leavelle got recognized frequently after the assassination. He was the homicide detective standing on Oswald’s right when Ruby shot the accused assassin. He was forced to stop wearing his large white hat, kind of a trademark, because people would stop him on the street. He kept it off for a year and a half and then one day decided to wear it to work again. Lea velle made it to a parking lot downtown before the attendant recognized who he was. But he’s accustomed himself to the letters, phone calls and requests for autographs. “Everyone expects you to say something out of the ordinary.” How does he feel about Oswald’s getting shot that day? He remembers having second thoughts about the transfer procedure, thinking “We don’t owe the press anything.” Today his only regret is that he didn’t keep a diary of those events. Lea-velle was also the first officer to interrogate Oswald after the Tippit shooting. He talked with Oswald for 15 minutes before anyone in the police department realized they might also have an assassin in custody. The only thing he got out of the suspect was an admission of “hitting an officer in the mouth” at the Texas Theatre. Now 56, Leavelle is an owner of Leavelle Hilliard & Associates, a polygraph firm. He retired from the police force in 1975.

Bob Jackson, now 42, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize as a result of that weekend. Then a photographer with the Dallas Times Herald, he was assigned to cover Oswald’s transfer to County Jail. When Ruby pulled a gun on the assassin, Jackson was ready with his camera. “Up to a point, I didn’t know if it was a good shot or if I just missed it. I felt like I had something.” In the first month and a half after the assassination, Jackson collected $11,000 in royalties from the photograph. He thinks he probably could have made twice that amount if he had known how valuable the picture would turn out to be. Jackson had also been in the motorcade that Friday. He saw a rifle jutting from a window of the Book Depository and heard three shots. “No doubt about it.” He was flown to Washington to testify before the Warren Commission. “They never asked me one question about the death of Os-wald,” he recalls. Jackson stayed with the Times Herald until 1968 and then worked for the Denver Post for a year. He returned to the Herald, and in 1974, helped start Society Section, billed as “Dallas-Fort Worth’s exclusive social newspaper.” He is the paper’s director of photography.

Thirteen years ago, Helen Grant, then Helen Louise Markham, was walking toward the bus she caught every day to get to her job at the Eat-Well Cafe when she saw Lee Harvey Oswald murder Officer J.D. Tippit. Mrs. Grant says she reported the shooting by calling in on Tippit’s squad car and was holding the policeman’s head in her hands when he died. After being questioned at police headquarters, she still managed to spend the rest of the day at work waiting tables. Mrs. Grant recalls it as “like a nightmare, that’s something you’ll never forget.” According to her, Oswald’s mother threatened her during visits and phone calls after the assassination. “She scared the life out of me.” Since then Mrs. Grant has suffered a stroke and says her left side still troubles her. Now married to a concession operator who is blind, she is reluctant to reveal her age, but says she has 14 grandchildren. She lives in a duplex next door to the one she was living in on November 22, 1963, and earns extra money by managing the apartment complex next to her home. What does she think about that weekend today? “It makes a nervous wreck out of you. I still feel that way.”

Malcolm Couch, then a 23-year-old cameraman for WFAA-TV, was about five cars behind the President’s limousine in the motorcade. As they approached downtown, he and the group of newsmen with him commented on what prime assassination sites those tall buildings would be. Seconds later they heard the first shot, but thought it was a firecracker or a motorcycle backfiring. At the second shot, Couch began looking around, and after the third shot, he spotted a rifle barrel moving back inside the window of the Depository. The newsmen told the driver to stop the car. As Couch began running back toward the Depository, he recalls yelling, “They can’t do that, they just don’t shoot the President!” Today he remembers the event “almost like a dream, very distant.” But Couch also feels it made him realize “how precarious the world of international events really is.” Since 1963 he has completed two masters degrees and is president of the Evangelical Communications Research Foundation. In that capacity, he produces Christian documentary films and lectures on the history of international affairs. “One or two” people who have written books have contacted him but he doesn’t keep up with the conspiracy theories, though he doesn’t think they’ll ever stop.

Lt. Jerry Hill has a remarkably detailed memory about the events of November 22, 1963. Maybe it is because of his previous training as a reporter for the Times Herald. Maybe it is because he just likes talking about it, sort of like the big fish that didn’t get away. He was a plainclothes policeman then, assigned to personnel, but he was always at the right place at the right time that Friday. He was at the Book Depository immediately after the shooting and found the shells of the three bullets fired from Oswald’s rifle. He was at the scene of the Tippit murder, too. He and several other officers followed leads on Oswald’s escape route that led them to a funeral home parking lot, storage houses, and the Marsalis branch of the Public Library. “Some of the ol’ gals in the library will never be the same.” Once they reached the Texas Theatre, he went up to the balcony where there were some “school skippers” hiding out. The truants thought the police were after them and one boy, about 6’4″, ran right into a low ceiling in an attempt to get away, then was trampled as the remaining truants ran from their seats.

Once they had captured Oswald, the policemen formed a wedge around the suspect and had to walk through a crowd to get to the squad car. Hill remembers several people yelling “Kill him!” as they got in the car. After he reached police headquarters, Hill never saw Oswald again, since next day Hill was in San Antonio for a police convention. Hill was 33 years old in 1963. Today he is a watch commander at the central jail. He plans on writing a book about his experiences when he retires “in 1980 or thereabouts.”

Warren Burroughs, now 35, was employed at the Texas Theatre in 1963, and still works there today. He remembers that he was stocking candy and listening to news about the assassination and the Tippit murder on a transistor radio. There were only about 18 people in the theater when he spotted Oswald coming down from the balcony to sit “in the fifth seat on the third row from the rear.” Burroughs thought Oswald looked a little suspicious and he fit the description of the man authorities were looking for. He told the secretary to call the police. He didn’t witness the actual arrest. Except for a year of “retirement” and a year at the Vogue Theater in 1961, Burroughs has always worked at the Texas Theatre where he’s now an usher and ticket taker. He says “quite a tew” people have talked to him about that day and tourists still visit and ask to be shown where Oswald was sitting when he was arrested. There’s a story that the original seat was ripped from the floor and stolen about a year after the assassination. Burroughs doesn’t know about that. He says there’s a seat there today and it’s painted black. He gets “a little perturbed” at the requests for interviews, but he’s willing to be more obliging now “because of the Bicentennial and all.” He believes that his involvement has had “no special effect” on his life, but he also thinks there were “too many shots fired” at Kennedy that day to be the act of one man.

Jesse Curry was the chief of police in Dallas in 1963. For years, he suffered from accusations that his handling of Oswald’s transfer resulted in the accused assassin’s death. He stands by a statement he made several years ago in a newspaper interview: “If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t let anybody in there, period. And I could get by with it now, but I couldn’t have then.” After Oswald was killed, Curry recalls receiving “hundreds” of letters saying Ruby should be given a medal. He wrote a book about his experience in 1969 and says about 25 people a year still come to talk to him. After 30 years on the force, he retired for medical reasons in 1966 to become security director for Texas Bank and Trust. He retired from that job in January of this year and now spends a lot of his free time fishing at a place he owns in Athens. Several years ago he suffered two heart attacks but he thinks he’s fully recovered now. How does he feel about the assassination 13 years later? “I’m not convinced that there wasn’t a conspiracy. The more I hear about the CIA and Castro the easier it is to accept.”

The Very Reverend Oscar L. Huber died on January 2, 1975, at the age of 81. He was pastor of Holy Trinity Church in 1963, and performed last rites for the slain President. Ruth Lang, who works at Holy Trinity, knew Father Huber well. She says the experience “changed his life,” and that when hundreds of letters requesting the priest’s autograph came to the church after the assassination, Father Huber wrote an account of his experiences on that Friday. He had just finished lunch when an associate, Father James N. Thompson, came in to tell him that the President had been shot. Parkland Hospital was within the confines of their parish so the two priests immediately left the rectory for the hospital. A policeman escorted Father Huber to the emergency room. “I found the fatally wounded President lying on a portable table,” he wrote. “He was covered with a sheet that I removed from over his forehead before administering conditionally the last rites of the Catholic Church.” Father Huber also wrote of Mrs. Kennedy, “I will never forget the blank stare in her eyes and the signs of agony on her face.” Upset by inaccurate newspaper reports, Father Huber wrote a follow-up account to correct those inaccuracies and reply to criticisms. He defended his use of the short form of the last rites for the President because “the President was apparently dead,” and denied having been the first person to come out of Trauma Unit I to announce that Kennedy was dead. He recalled that his answer to reporters asking about the President’s condition was “I don’t know!” Father Huber left Holy Trinity in 1968. In semi-retirement, he accepted a position with a parish in St. Louis, near the small Missouri town where he was born. He died in Missouri after 44Vi years in the priesthood.

Paul Bentley was a Dallas police officer in 1963. He and another officer were checking out fingerprints on Tippit’s patrol car when a call came over the police radio that a suspect in the policeman’s murder was hiding in the Texas Theatre. He and fellow officers rushed to the scene. Bentley headed for the balcony where he advised the projectionist to turn on the house lights. Just as Bentley returned to the main entrance, Oswald jumped up and pulled a gun. In that scuffle, Bentley caught his right ankle between two theater seats and pulled the ligaments. The arresting officers deposited Oswald at police headquarters, still unaware that he was also the suspected assassin. Bentley then went to Parkland where doctors put his foot in a cast. He was at home on crutches for the rest of the weekend and saw the Oswald murder on TV like the rest of the country. In spite of the fact that some writers with various conspiracy theories have sought to discredit his testimony, and in spite of occasional requests for autographs and interviews, Bentley feels his involvement in the arrest has had “no effect whatsoever” on his life. “It was a day’s work done as far I was concerned.” He retired from the police force in 1968 and went to work for First National Bank. He’s now a vice president and director of security. It is still his personal feeling that Oswald acted alone.

Dr. Malcolm Perry, now professor of surgery at the University of Washington Medical School, was on the surgical team at Parkland that tried to save the lives of Kennedy and Oswald. When he’s asked how he felt about that weekend, Perry replies, “I wish I had been in Waxahachie.” He remembers the hopeless task of trying to save the President as “very distasteful, very depressing.” For eight or ten years after the assassination, he refused to give interviews. “Some of the media were extremely pushy.” Reporters blocked his car in his driveway to force him to talk. A few crackpots threatened his life, saying he didn’t do all he could to save the President or Oswald. Yet he says, “I’ve never had any sleepless nights because of what we did.” He has nothing but high praise for the Parkland emergency staff. Perry doesn’t think about that weekend much any more and is never recognized as “the doctor who tried to save Kennedy,” saying “that kind of surgery is just my job, what I do every day.” A little over two years ago, he and several other staff members at Southwestern Medical School moved to Seattle to accept positions with the state university. Today he misses Dallas and his former job. “Frankly, I wish I’d stayed home.”

All you can see of L.C. Graves in Bob Jackson’s prize-winning photo of the Oswald murder is the top of his hat. But he was standing to Oswald’s left when Ruby fired the shots. Graves wrestled with Ruby for the gun and got it out of his hands. “He was surely pulling on that trigger.” At the time, he was a detective in the homicide and robbery division of the police department. He had limited contact with Oswald but remembers him as being “very belligerent and indignant” during questioning. Graves has reconciled himself to the questions and requests for interviews and autographs he still gets occasionally. Of the assassination, he says there’s “always a possibility that somebody conspired to do it,” but he’ll stand on the Warren Commission’s report. Graves left the police department in 1970 and like Paul Bentley, his brother-in-law, now works for a bank. He’s a credit card investigator for Republic National Bank, working in security.

Hugh Aynesworth is now an investigative reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, but in 1963 he was working for the Dallas News covering the events of that November weekend. He is thought by some to be one of the most knowledgeable reporters in the country on the subject of the assassination. He was at the Book Depository right after Kennedy was shot and he was at the Texas Theatre when Oswald was captured. The following Sunday he was in the basement of the city jail when Oswald was killed. Aynesworth has received threats over the years because of his interest in the investigation but he really doesn’t like to talk about the assassination much any more, saying he’s “kind of sick” of the whole thing. Still, people keep in touch with him about it, including Eva Grant and Earl Ruby, Jack’s sister and brother. The Ruby family even asked him to be a pallbearer at Jack’s funeral, but Aynesworth refused. Aynesworth says he was offered $75,000 once to write a book about a conspiracy but he turned it down because he didn’t believe there was one. How about a book he considers fair and objective? “It would be such an exhaustive undertaking and I wouldn’t want to tackle it unless it was done well. I guess I’m just too lazy.”

Newman R. McLarry was a minister working for the Baptist Home Mission Board in Dallas in 1963. He was so moved by the death of President Kennedy that he sat down and wrote a now famous letter to Caroline Kennedy the evening after the assassination. He mailed a copy of the letter to the Dallas Times Herald. It was printed as a letter to the editor and subsequently carried by papers all over the world. McLarry explained his action recently by saying, “I wasn’t speaking for anybody but myself but I felt it was a common denominator for a lot of people.” The letter of consolation he wrote to a fatherless 6-year-old girl had surprising results. He was deluged with thousands of letters and phone calls, both appreciative and critical, from all over the world, and Jack Ruby said reading it encouraged him to kill Lee Harvey Oswald. McLar-ry, who recalls that he was “scared silly” when it happened, was subpoenaed for the Ruby trial as a result of that statement. He said he has never had second thoughts about Ruby’s comment, however. “That wa9 not the kind of letter that should trigger that kind of reaction.” Earlier this summer, upon returning to Dallas after 10 years in Oklahoma, McLarry wrote a second letter to Caroline, telling her that his concern “has not diminished in these 13 years.” A story on the new letter was published in papers all over the world and once again, McLarry received many letters and phone calls. McLarry said he has read a lot of things about the assassination in the last 13 years. “From the beginning it just did not seem to me to be a one-man operation.” On the morning of the assassination, McLarry was at Love Field to watch the President deplane. He recalled that he was practicing tips he had studied in a memory-improvement course by noticing people in the crowd at the airport. He was particularly intrigued by two men who appeared to be Puerto Rican or Cuban, dressed in suits and carrying briefcases. Later McLarry read about Oswald’s Cuban connections and also about a map found in the accused assassin’s possession. The map had about six locations in the city marked with an X. One of the marks was at Love Field. McLarry has always wondered if there was a connection between the map and the men, or if it was only coincidence.

Perm Jones is the retired editor of the Midlothian Mirror, the local newspaper in nearby Midlothian, Texas. He had been invited to the luncheon in President Kennedy’s honor at the Trade Mart that Friday. When he heard the news that the President had been shot, he rushed to Parkland Hospital. While he was there, he took a rear-view picture of a man he claims was Jack Ruby, although he didn’t know him at the time. The Warren Commission has discounted his evidence but ever since Sunday, November 24, when Ruby shot Oswald, Penn Jones has waged a one-man war against the notion that the assassination was the act of a single deranged individual. He claims to have printed “more than any other newspaper about the conspiracy,” and that his collection of assassination data is “pretty voluminous and pretty extensive.” Jones helped Jim Garrison with his investigation back in the Sixties and says the FBI visited him three times about his involvement with that research. He says the FBI used to follow him, too. Since 1969, he has written several books about his theories, which point out that an unusually large number of people connected with the assassination have died. Jones sold his newspaper in 1974 and today supports himself primarily through the sale of hisbooks and farming. He spends 8 to 10hours a day researching the subject andhas recently begun a newsletter aboutnew developments concerning the assassination which he hopes will sell enoughsubscriptions to be self-supporting.More than a few people have said he’scrazy, but Jones doesn’t seem to mindthose accusations, believing that oneday evidence will be uncovered to support his continued interest in the assassination. Now 62, his speech is full ofprofanity, and there’s bitterness in hisvoice when he talks about this country- it “used to be a democracy,” he says.He was a great admirer of John F. Kennedy. He doesn’t plan to vote in thisyear’s presidential elections.


Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.