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.

Curry then went to the homicide unit, where Fritz, Forrest Sorrels of the FBI, and Tom Kelly of the Secret Service were still interrogating Oswald. During a break from questioning, Curry asked Fritz whether he was ready to move the prisoner. The day before, Curry had been bickering with Fritz about the transfer: Curry wanted a definite time--4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday, just something to tell reporters to get them off his back--but Fritz wouldn't be specific. He finally told Curry that Sunday morning would be fine. It wasn't like Oswald was giving the cops any hard evidence. Better to get him out of the building and make him Bill Decker's problem.

Some controversy remains as to whether the plan to move Oswald in front of the cameras was Curry's idea or whether he was acting under orders from Elgin Crull and Mayor Earle Cabell. No doubt, all three wanted the world to see that the police hadn't abused Oswald while in custody. There had been enough questions about the bruises and cuts he had suffered when he was taken into custody at the Texas Theater moments after the murder of officer Tippit.

Fritz told Curry he'd hand Oswald over to the chief if "security was completed." They discussed the plan to take Oswald out in an armored car, which Fritz hated: He told the chief that an armored car would be too hard to maneuver through crowds and suggested instead using it as a decoy. Detective James Leavelle, who was standing outside Fritz's office at the time, recommended ditching the whole idea. He told Curry it would be better to "double-cross the media" and take Oswald out through the first floor instead of the basement.

"But he said no," recalls Leavelle. "The chief promised them [the reporters] they could see Oswald. He said, 'I want them to see we haven't abused and mistreated him in any way, and the only way to do that is to let them view the transfer.' Sure, it made sense. If we took him out the way I suggested, they would have said we beat him to a pulp."

In the end, the greatest irony surrounding Oswald's death is that Chief Curry was not even in the basement to witness the murder at the hands of nightclub owner Jack Ruby, who had sneaked into the garage seconds before he pulled the trigger. Right before the transfer was to take place, at about 11:20 a.m., Mayor Cabell phoned Curry to see how things were going. For the defining moment of his life, Jesse Curry wasn't even there.

Minutes later, "I was told that a man named Jack Ruby had shot Oswald and that the wound was serious," Curry wrote in his letter to Elgin Crull. Not long after that, Curry had to go before the press corps and tell them Oswald was dead.

"You have to remember that within an hour and 35 minutes after the assassination of President Kennedy, the assassin was in custody, and that's pretty good work," says DPD officer Glen King. "And we had been very open with it. The press had been made privy to everything going on. They liked that. They didn't remember they liked it later, when, as a result of that openness, the assassin was assassinated. In the time it took to pull the trigger, we went from being one of the most lauded police agencies in the country to the Keystone Cops."

No one would ever again mention Jesse Curry without talking about how his men had let Ruby kill Oswald in their own back yard. Curry began receiving death threats, so many that his wife Bea and their 9-year-old daughter Cathey left town to stay with relatives until things cooled off. Typical of the letters he received was one from Pennsylvania that read: "I wish you all to have the most pathetic life you can find. May your city start sinking at all directions and may the hate that spread ours [sic] beloved President's blood on your dirty streets give you all kind of deseases [sic] and unhappiness. Go to hell all of you."

Both Gene Curry, who carried a shotgun in his car for protection during the days following the assassination, and Fred Hollis recall that shortly after Oswald's death, three French journalists broke into Jesse's home and threatened to beat him to death if he didn't tell them everything he knew about the conspiracy to kill the president. Gene even says he found out where the writers were staying, went to their hotel room, and raised hell trying to get them to come to the door. " I was a little hot-headed," recalls Gene. "I was too young to have any sense. I was in my 20s."

The day following Oswald's shooting, rumors circulated that Curry had tendered his resignation--willingly, according to some, while others claimed it was at the behest of Crull and Cabell. Both men insisted they did no such thing, and that they had complete confidence in the chief and in his ability to investigate the breakdown in security that allowed Ruby to enter the basement and kill Oswald. "Chief Curry is not disheartened," Crull told reporters. "He is discouraged and worn, as everybody is." Cabell insisted he was "proud of Chief Curry and his department."

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