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.

"Dad was very strong. I don't think the enormity of what happened affected him till years later," says Gene. "The thing that saved him, I think, was that Dallas circled the wagons. The attack was on Dallas. It wasn't Jesse Curry...It was on everybody. If you were from Dallas, you were an S.O.B."

But four months later, Curry was admitted to the hospital for undisclosed tests. It was hinted that the stress of the assassinations and the ensuing investigation had been too much for him to bear. Gene says his father likely entered the hospital because of illness and exhaustion: Jesse had, unbeknownst to most, high blood pressure and diabetes. And Jesse's father had died at age 53.

In August 1964, Curry admitted to Jim Ewell of the Morning News that "I wake up every now and then at 2 and 3 in the morning thinking about Kennedy, Oswald, and Ruby and can't get back to sleep. I suppose it will haunt me to my dying day"--a sentiment he would often repeat. He also said he thought that criticism of him and his department for their handling of Oswald was "justified," and that "the worst thing that happened to us was Jack Ruby."

In 1965, amidst complaints that all was not well in the department, city officials put together a committee to study the police force. Their conclusion, according to Dallas writer Carlton Stowers in his 1983 Dallas police history Partners in Blue, was that there was "administrative weakness" and that "the department had serious internal problems." The committee didn't recommend forcing Curry out. That would be left to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which conducted its own study of the DPD, and concluded it was time for Curry to step down.

Which he did, on February 17, 1966, claiming in his letter of resignation that he was leaving the force "upon the advice of my physician...My doctor informs me that the continued pressures and tensions of the office have caused my blood pressure to be affected." He concluded by extending his "deep appreciation" to his staff for being so "loyal and cooperative."

Not long after his resignation, Curry took a job working security at the State Fair of Texas and the Dallas Housing Authority; then, in October 1968, he took a full-time position as head of security for the Texas Bank & Trust Company, which he held for eight years.

He would never dwell on the events of November 1963 with his family. After he wrote his book in 1969, he didn't have much more to say on the subject. He felt the case was closed; what was done was done.

"He wasn't the type of person to share his feelings," insists his son-in law Fred Hollis. "If you show your feelings, you're showing a weakness. He was too strong to show any kind of weakness. He never admitted to feeling responsible or anything else. He did tell me there were several people who did not do their jobs."

In September 1978--not long after a House of Representatives opened yet another set of hearings about the Kennedy assassination--Jesse Curry was driving near Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane when he suffered a stroke and crashed into a fire hydrant and a telephone pole. His car landed 100 feet away in a parking lot.

Fred Hollis and Jim Ewell say that in the years after the assassinations, Curry had begun to drink heavily. "To excess," Hollis claims, though Ewell says that "he masked it pretty well." Gene says that just isn't true. Sure, his father became melancholy every now and then. "But to attribute that to the assassination or age, I don't know."

Jesse Curry died less than two years after the accident, on June 23, 1980. For a man who had been at the center of such chaos, his was a peaceful death.

"The night he died was really strange," Gene recalls. "He called over to my house, and all the kids were there. He talked to me, my wife, my children--each one--on the phone. He never did that. Never. He tells Bea, 'I'm going in to work on a crossword puzzle,' and he died."

Six months after Jesse Curry's death, documents were released revealing that J. Edgar Hoover never forgot Curry's allegations that the FBI knew about Oswald's being in Dallas and did nothing to prevent him from killing Kennedy. Hoover conducted a "vendetta" against the Dallas police because of Curry's remarks, disallowing any DPD officers from attending the very same FBI training academy that Curry himself had once attended. He wrote a letter to special agent Shanklin instructing him to "deal at arm's length with Dallas Police Department personnel."

These documents also revealed that in January 1966, Hoover had met with Dallas Mayor J. Erik Jonsson and told him to have a "stern talk" with Curry about the kinds of information he should share with the press. A month later, Curry was out of office, and the cold war between the DPD and the FBI came to an end.

"There's nothing Curry could have done to make Kennedy safer or Oswald safer," says Dallas Sheriff Jim Bowles, who was the communications supervisor in DPD's dispatch office on November 22, 1963. "But he had to eat the blame." And in the end, the blame swallowed him whole.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help