He was a good cop and good friend
Dallas Police Department
Detective James R. Leavelle was a good cop and a good friend.
Who was James R. Leavelle anyway?
Leavelle was the Texas po- lice detective, dressed in a light tan suit and Stetson hat, most recognizable for his stunned look when alleged presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby on Nov. 24, 1963.
Detective Leavelle was manacled to Oswald as he was being transferred from a police department basement. Jack Ruby then stepped out of the crowd and fired a fatal bullet into Oswald.
Leavelle died at age 99 on Aug. 29. He was visiting a daughter in Denver, Colo. He had fallen, broke a hip and underwent surgery
at a Denver hospital. He came through the surgery quite well but then suffered a fatal heart attack.
I had just spoken with him on a phone call on Aug. 6. We had a lengthy conver- sation and he told me he still receives a dozen or more letters weekly asking for autographs, or asking for him to recount his feelings on the assassination of President Kennedy.
I had sent him a birthday card on his
99th birthday, Aug. 23.
The shooting, with Oswald’s painted grimace and Leavelle’s stricken glower, was caught on black and white film by Dallas Times Herald photographer Bob Jackson. He later won a Pulitzer Prize for this iconic photo.
I’ve always been a follower of President John F. Kennedy and collected many Ken- nedy items. As a journalist, I met Leavelle over the telephone in the early 1990s. I met him in person and had lunch with him
in Dallas on the 30th anniversary of the assassination.
I met up with Leavelle on the 50th anniversary, visiting him and his wife Tymie at their Garland, Texas home. My granddaughter Kaley accompanied me on this trip.
In the years after the assassination, Leavelle spoke to many groups, often to young school students.
He always emphasized in his message that he did not believe President Kennedy was a victim of a conspiracy.
Asked if his recollections of those four days in November of 1963 were just as clear today as they were then, Leavelle remarked: “Time moves on but nobody has let me for- get what happened; it stays with me.”
Leavelle’s wife Tymie, a native of Aitkin, Minn., told me in 2003 that she still fielded many of his calls from reporters. “I just wish this would go away. Some day I’m going to say that Jim ran away and I don’t know where he went,” she laughed.
The Leavelles actually met soon after
another unforgettable world happening, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Leavelle had been stationed there since 1940 and when injured in the bombing, was sent to a Naval hospital in California. There, he met his wife, a nurse.
Leavelle logged 26 years with the Dallas Police Department and was on duty on Nov. 22. He was dispatched to the police station where he interrogated Oswald for
the shooting of policeman J.D.
Leavelle, who said he has been recognized both with his hat on and off because of his world acclaim, is in the minori- ty of those who believe that Oswald was the lone gunman who shot President Kennedy and former Texas Gov. John Connally.
Leavelle was a man who never refused to field a re- porter’s question about that
fateful weekend. He regarded Oswald as a nondescript 24-year-old who wanted to be someone important and thus decided to do something spectacular.
“Oswald didn’t kill John F. Kennedy, he killed the President of the United States,” Leavelle said in explaining that he went after the office. “He didn’t live long enough to enjoy it,” Leavelle said.
Jack Ruby, Oswald’s assassin, was the same type of individual, Leavelle believes. “When we wrestled him to the ground after he shot Oswald, Ruby said he did it to be a hero. He also said, ‘I guess I messed it up.’”
Ruby was previously known by many Dallas police officers, including Leavelle. Leavelle recalls meeting Ruby 13 years earlier at a dance hall Ruby ran in South Ir- ving, Texas. Ruby told Leavelle then that he was always ready to protect police officers who came to his establishment and said that some day he might save the life of an officer.
Leavelle told me that he personally did not believe Oswald and Ruby knew one another and didn’t think Oswald believed he might be shot when he was being trans- ferred from the Dallas PD to a county jail down the street.
“Some people have said that they could tell by the expression on Oswald’s face that he knew Ruby when Ruby lunched forward at him with a gun.” Leavelle said Oswald didn’t recognize Ruby, he recognized the sight of a gun and showed fear of it.”
Ruby was transferred to the same county jail a few days later and he was fearful he would be shot. “He wanted to wear my hat and suit during the transfer,” Leavelle