Officer down

Thirty-five years ago, Jesse Curry was Dallas' respected, popular police chief. Then Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, and Curry became just one more victim of the Kennedy assassination.

Until the early afternoon of November 24, 1963, Dallas police chief Jesse Curry had been everything the media asked of him. He was courteous, impossibly patient, willing to answer their questions--every damned one of them. At 50, Curry--a burly, soft-spoken man who looked like the smartest football player in the room--was as helpful as he could be...and as helpless as he had never been before. He had given these reporters what they wanted, told them more than he should have about the suspect in his custody, let them camp out in the hallways of police headquarters until they sucked the air out of the building.

But standing in front of the press once more--some said there were 100 newsmen, others insisted the actual number was closer to 250--Chief Curry only had one thing left to tell them.

"Oswald expired at 1:07 p.m." His voice sounded weary, disgusted. He wanted the reporters to go away, the day to disappear.

"He died?" asked one reporter, jamming his microphone in Curry's face.
"He died at 1:07 p.m.," Curry blurted back. His face tensed up until he wore his skin like a mask. "We have arrested the man. The man will be charged with murder."

"Who is it?" shouted another journalist.
"The suspect's name is Jack Rubenstein, I believe. He goes by the name Jack Ruby. That's all I have to say. I have no other statement to make at this time."

Curry was anxious to get out of the room; he looked one way and moved another, then felt compelled to repeat the announcement again: The man Dallas police believed killed President John F. Kennedy has been murdered by Jack Ruby. Curry seemed lost as he searched for an escape. Lost, and sad.

Stories would circulate later that when Chief Curry found out Ruby had gunned down Oswald in the basement of police headquarters--his headquarters--he broke down and cried, and blamed himself and his men for the tragedy. In front of those reporters, he looked like a beaten man. Which he was: Not long after Oswald's assassination, Curry was hospitalized because of stress, and in 1966, he retired from the force under doctor's orders. He would go to his death in 1980 insisting he was a "happy" man--but one always "haunted" by the deaths of John Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Thirty-five years later, his son Gene, a client relations coordinator with a local law firm, pulls out of his desk drawer a copy of a paperback book Jesse Curry wrote in 1969 in which his father told his side of the events surrounding the assassination. Gene--who, at age 61, looks like his father--bends back the pages to reveal an old Dallas Morning News photograph taken during the press conference where his father announced the death of Oswald.

"This picture has meant more to me than anything," Gene says. "Anytime you think you got problems, just look at this picture. Every time I think, 'Man, things are not going too good,' I look at ol' Dad and think, 'Man, I don't have any problems at all.'"

Gene Curry doesn't talk much about his father with strangers. Occasionally, he is asked about Jesse when someone finds out his connection to the Kennedy and Oswald murders, but maybe asked is the wrong word. "People talk at me more than to me," Gene says. Everyone, it seems, has his own opinions about Jesse Curry, which they are more than happy to share with his son.

"If I ever run across anybody that tried to make a big deal out of [the assassinations] or embarrass us about it, I wouldn't sit for it," says Gene. "There was nothing to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of. It's just something that happened. It doesn't define a career. History might want it to, but it doesn't."

To that end, Gene never really kept any of his father's old letters or any other souvenirs related to Kennedy and Oswald. He doesn't read assassination books; he owns only one video about the events of November 1963, a PBS series that features some footage of his father. He doesn't waste his time reading books that deal in conspiracies, books that portray his father as the doddering local-yokel police chief who let the crime of the century collapse beneath his feet.

His scrapbook is instead filled with photos of his father as a high school football hero, a pilot in the Army Air Corps, a rookie cop, a plain-clothes detective who looks as though he just stepped off the silver screen.

This is the man he remembers: The police chief who peacefully integrated Dallas' public schools in the early 1960s. The "fair" man who joined the force for the paycheck and stayed because he loved dealing with people. The father who drove him around town in his squad car, sharing his adventures with his young son.

And this is the man Gene Curry would prefer you memorialize--not the police chief in that awful picture taken at the Jack Ruby press conference, not the innocent victim of events far bigger than any one man.

Jesse Edward Curry has been dead for 18 years, and his life has been reduced to the footnotes of history. "Nobody ever asks about Chief Curry," says Gary Mack, the archivist at The Sixth Floor Museum. "It's sad, but nobody really cares about him. He's an important figure, but nobody seems to realize it."

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