By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
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."
Curry's name appears in nearly every book written about the assassination, but he is often portrayed as a tragic figure or, more simply, an idiot. He's known as the police chief who let the president leave Dallas in a pine box--as the man who let Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald in his own building.
Author Jim Bishop ends The Day Kennedy Was Shot, his oft-cited 1968 minute-by-minute account of the Kennedy assassination, by concluding that "Chief Jesse Curry wanted to hide from the assassination," and that "the chief did not know a great deal about the case." In his 1996 book Assignment: Oswald, FBI special agent James Hosty, who began investigating Oswald even before the assassination, claims that Curry and the Dallas police were so ashamed of Oswald's murder that "they decided to cover up" the truth about how Ruby got into the basement.
In some ways, Jesse Curry is a lost victim of the Kennedy and Oswald assassinations. Many of his old friends and colleagues explain that Curry was never the same after the killings. They speak of a depression that set in; more than one hints at a drinking problem, though Gene insists that's not true. Yet they all agree on one thing: The deaths of Kennedy and Oswald destroyed his career and shortened his life.
John Kennedy's blood got on everyone. Jesse Curry was soaked in it.
Jesse Curry never wanted to be a cop. He was, quite literally, the son of a preacher man who moved to Dallas with his family a few months after Jesse was born on October 3, 1913. His father actually served as a police officer here, but his tenure was short-lived: He entered the seminary and became an ordained Baptist minister.
For a while, young Jesse thought he wanted to go into his Uncle Roy's trucking business, even dropped out of high school at Crozier Tech to work for him--did this despite the fact that he was a football star, an all-district tackle who led his team to the state finals against Greenville High School in 1933.
"But he wrecked one of Roy's trucks," Gene says. "My uncle always gave Dad the worst jobs to encourage him to go back to school, which he did." It was at Crozier Tech that Jesse met the woman who would become his first wife.
After graduating from high school in 1933, Jesse briefly studied optometry, then went into the dry-cleaning business as a pants-presser. It was a job he didn't much like, perhaps because he was not very good at it.
In the spring of 1936, he found out the Dallas police were hiring temporary officers during the state's 100th anniversary celebration. So on May 1, 1936, he joined the force as part of the so-called "Texas Centennial" gang, for which he drew a paycheck of $90 a month--which beat the hell out of the money he was making at the dry cleaners. He was asked to stay on with the force after the Centennial, though his son says that Jesse was not the kind of man who fantasized about wearing a gun and a badge. "He joined the force to earn a living, and then he grew into it."
Jesse became, in the end, a career cop: Not long after Gene was born in 1937, Jesse was assigned to the motorcycle division (making a whopping $150 a month), where he became known as something of a daredevil: In 1939, while answering a shooting call, Curry crashed his bike into the side of an escaping felon's car, breaking a finger on his left hand and damaging his spinal column. One family member says that Curry--lying in the street, bruised and bloodied--held his gun on the robbers till back-up arrived.
"He was very determined," says Curry's son-in-law Fred Hollis Jr. "Another time, he chased a bank robber to a second floor and jumped off the second floor to catch him and broke both his ankles."
On September 19, 1942, Curry was granted a leave of absence from the force to join the Army Air Corps as an enlisted reserve, which Curry told the Warren Commission in 1964 was "open to people who were over combat age [to serve] in the Air Force." But the Army disbanded the air corps less than a year after Curry joined, claiming it had too many pilots. Curry flew--loved it, in fact--but never got the chance to fly overseas, only getting as far as Meacham Field in Fort Worth. The Army offered the members of the Air Corps the chance to fight as foot soldiers or return to their previous jobs. Curry accepted the latter, and in July 1943, received his honorable discharge and returned to the Dallas police force.
In August 1945, Curry was sent by the force to the prestigious Northwestern University Traffic Institute in Evanston, Illinois. This was police college, where the department's "better men" went to receive advanced training in traffic control and accident prevention. It was here that he realized his police job was no longer a temporary one. Curry returned to Dallas an invaluable officer, someone educated in the ways of law enforcement. He also returned with Bessie "Bea" Wilhelm, who worked at the college and became the woman for whom he left his first wife. "They just fell in love," says Gene, who admits he was "devastated" by his father's decision to divorce his mother.
In 1946, Curry advanced to the rank of lieutenant, and he assumed command of the motorcycle division; for less than a year, he also worked as a plain-clothes detective in the vice squad. Gene recalls that he would often go to work with his father, especially on weekends, when Jesse had custody of his son. Gene talks with great affection about the afternoons they spent together chasing bank robbers and bootleggers. "Nowadays, that wouldn't be allowed. Can you imagine?" Gene laughs. "But if I wanted to see him and he was workin', that's what happened."
In 1948, Jesse was promoted to captain and reassigned to the traffic division. Shortly after that, he was moved to the DPD's training school. Despite a degenerative back condition that caused him enormous pain, Curry continued in law enforcement, and in 1951 was sent to Washington to attend the FBI's National Academy, where he, in essence, learned how to become a leader. No Dallas police officer had ever before been sent to both Northwestern and the FBI academy. In what would prove, years later, a most ironic footnote, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent Dallas Chief Carl Hansson a personal note upon Curry's graduation from the FBI academy on November 16, 1951, that concluded: "You may be assured that we were very pleased to have Captain Curry with us." Twelve years later, Hoover would go out of his way to make sure Curry paid for the sin of allowing Lee Oswald to be murdered under his watch.
In 1951, Curry was promoted to inspector and assigned to head the department's training facilities, and just two years later, Hansson tapped him to become assistant chief of police--Hansson's "right-hand man," as City Manager Elgin Crull would later refer to him. In 17 years, Curry had gone from being a part-timer in need of a paycheck to part of Hansson's "inner circle."
Yet there could not have been two men more dissimilar than Hansson and Curry. "Hansson was strictly an administrator and a disciplinarian," says Jim Leavelle, a former detective on the force--and the man made immortal when he was handcuffed to Oswald for the ill-fated transfer from police headquarters to the county jail. "A lot of the people [on the force] disagreed with the way he handled the department...Curry was a little easier where discipline was concerned. But he had more time on the street than Hansson."
When Hansson stepped down as chief on January 20, 1960, after 15 years in the position, Curry was chosen as his successor. "It was like replacing Tom Landry," says Jim Ewell, a former police reporter for The Dallas Morning News "But Curry was so far removed from Hansson's overpowering leadership, it was almost a relief for a lot of cops."
Curry grew more secure with his leadership role after September 6, 1961, when Dallas' public schools were desegregated without a hint of violence. Indeed, things went so well, President Kennedy called Dallas a "dramatic demonstration" of "law and order prevailing [and] responsible, level-headed leadership [welding] a whole community together to solve a difficult problem in race relations."
Ironically, noted SMU professor Darwin Payne, reported in his 1995 book, Big D, that Curry had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. But that would have been impossible: Curry would have been only about 10 years old at the time Payne insisted Curry was running around town in white sheets.
Rather than racial bigotry, Curry appeared to preach just the opposite. In 1962, Curry and Glen King, who served as Curry's administrative assistant and as Dallas police chief from 1979 till 1982, wrote a book titled Race Tensions and Police. The book offered a blueprint on how law-enforcement agencies could prevent and disarm "the racial strains that characterize America and its communities." In their 135-page treatise--an expanded version of a training manual King had penned for Dallas police--Curry and King wrote of skin color being just that, "only skin deep." They warned against "tabloid thinking," cautioned against prejudice, and insisted "that intelligence is in direct relation to a person's social and cultural environment, and is not dependent on racial differences."
"My father was defined, I think, by his absolute fairness," says Gene Curry. "He was totally fair and totally without prejudice. Those two things made him ahead of his time."
Jesse Curry's career might well have been defined by that triumphant moment of racial harmony. Dallas had been desegregated, and Curry had kept the peace. But two years later, John Kennedy decided to come to Dallas, and that changed everything.
During those three horrible days in November of 1963, Chief Curry was on television more than any actor. Cameras followed him as though he were a movie star--years before, he had even looked the part, like Broderick Crawford in a detective's plain clothes. He never did lose his football hero's build. Even in old black-and-white photos, he looks Technicolor. But those are the pictures taken long before John Kennedy came to Dallas--when Curry was a young cop on the beat, before the weight of the world fell on top of him.
In 1969, Curry published a book in which he tried to explain, with several years' worth of hindsight, the events of November 1963. Some would say he was trying to excuse himself from the tragedy, trying to deflect blame. But the book--cumbersomely titled Retired Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry Reveals His Personal JFK Assassination File--reads more like a man's attempt to come to grips with his past. "The events and evidence must be allowed to speak for themselves," he wrote, "and people must form their own conclusions."
He describes Dallas as a "turbulent city" in 1963, a place that bred such organizations as the John Birch Society and something called the Indignant White Citizens Council. He mentions on the very first page of his book the attempt made on the life of General Edwin A. Walker, the right-wing zealot who referred to Dallas as a "Commie cell" and made it his life's mission to eradicate the Red forces from the city. Walker was sitting at a desk in his Turtle Creek mansion on April 10, 1963, when a bullet zinged through a window and landed in a wall just above his head.
Only after the Kennedy assassination would police discover from federal investigators that Lee Harvey Oswald had fired the shot at Walker. But at the time of the incident, Curry and his men thought it was further proof that a "small and violent minority were in danger of upsetting the stability of the whole city." Their opinion was reinforced on October 24, 1963, after United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson came to town and was hit with placards and spat upon by "extremists" (as Curry described them) when he tried to enter the Adolphus Hotel on Commerce Street, just a few blocks from police headquarters.
After Curry learned in early November that John Kennedy was coming to Dallas to heal some lingering wounds in the Democratic Party--and woo voters in the process--the chief wasn't too thrilled. He worried that Kennedy's visit would be too much for the city to bear, that the extremists could not be contained. He fretted about the "dark shadow" that hung over the city; he would later write of "hatemongers" lurking behind buildings.
But on November 18--the day the Dallas police and the Secret Service finalized the route that Kennedy's motorcade would take from Love Field to the Trade Mart--Curry had convinced the City Council to pass an ordinance that would make it unlawful for anyone to insult, threaten, or intimidate the president. He also held a televised press conference warning citizens that police officers would "take immediate action if any suspicious conduct is observed, and we also urge all good citizens to be alert for such conduct." He concluded his remarks by saying that "I am sure that all but a handful of our citizens will cordially welcome the president of the United States to Dallas." Curry made sure the FBI and Secret Service had a list of the extremists and hatemongers among us.
Years later, it would be revealed that FBI special agent James Hosty, assigned to the investigation of Kennedy's murder, had been tailing Oswald, knew he was in Dallas--but didn't warn police officials about his presence. Then again, there was no reason to: From information the FBI knew at the time, Oswald had never made a threat against Kennedy or anyone else. In Curry's book, the chief insisted that "had FBI files been available to us, the individuals involved, such as Oswald, would have been placed under surveillance." It echoed something Curry told The Dallas Morning News in April 1964: If police had known about Oswald, they would have been "sitting on his lap" during the motorcade.
Hosty would, in his own book, refer to Curry's comments as "idiotic." He insisted that Dallas police "had a long list of well-known Communists in Dallas, and not one had a police officer sitting on his lap on November 22." Hosty complained that Curry was just trying to cover his ass--and humiliate the FBI in the process.
There were 168 Dallas police officers assigned to the parade, and Curry was one of them. In fact, he and Sheriff Bill Decker rode in the lead car, scouting for trouble. But Curry was delighted when, on the ride from the airport to downtown, there was none. The morning's rain and gloom had given way to bright, warm smiles all along the parade route--it was a "tumultuous" scene, according to the Warren Commission report, but a reassuring one nonetheless.
Curry was beginning to relax and enjoy the parade when the motorcade turned west off Houston onto Elm in front of the Texas School Book Depository. At that moment Curry noticed "a few unauthorized people on the overpass and wondered how they got there." Then he heard the first gunshot and uttered a few words that became the blueprint upon which conspiracy theorists built their shrine to a cover-up.
"Get a man on top of that triple underpass," he shouted over the police radio, "and see what happened up there!"
Not the sixth floor of the School Book Depository. Not the grassy knoll. But the top of the triple underpass. Curry would later admit that he was just guessing, that it sounded as though the shots came from there, but he couldn't be absolutely certain. Yet even until his death, Curry suspected there might have been more than one assassin--he was convinced, however, that Oswald was definitely one of them.
Immediately after Curry realized Kennedy had been shot, he ordered the motorcade to Parkland Hospital, where Curry remained for about an hour. At Parkland, he learned that police officer J.D. Tippit had been shot and killed. Once Kennedy's death was confirmed, Curry took personal charge of Lyndon Johnson's security, escorting the vice president to Love Field, where U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes swore him in as president. Curry remained on board Air Force One for the brief ceremony, but was "anxious" to get back to City Hall to see just what in God's name was going on.
When he returned, he found nothing but chaos: Reporters had taken over the third floor of the Police and Courts Building. The scene, according to one FBI agent in the Warren Commission's report, looked like "Yankee Stadium during the World Series." Curry could barely get to his office, which was at the end of the hallway on the third floor.
For the next two days, reporters swarmed the chief whenever he stepped out of his office or entered the building. Television stations broadcast live his every word, though he knew little about the interrogation of Lee Harvey Oswald, which was being handled by Captain Will Fritz, the head of homicide, who wanted to run the investigation his way, without interference. All Curry could tell the reporters was that, yes, they had charged Oswald with the murder of Tippit; yes, the police had physical evidence also linking Oswald to the assassination of Kennedy; and yes, Oswald had refused to take a polygraph examination to clear his name.
Curry stood in the hallway for what seemed like hours, answering questions until he ran out of things to say. On November 23, Curry told reporters that a source had told him the FBI had known that Oswald was in Dallas and that he was a potential threat to Kennedy. Hours later, the FBI special agent in charge of the Dallas office, J. Gordon Shanklin, called Curry and told him to retract the story, which he promptly did--sort of, telling reporters "I do not know if and when [the FBI] interviewed" Oswald.
Shanklin had insisted to Curry that "the FBI did not have Oswald under surveillance," but that was not true: The Bureau had had Oswald under surveillance since 1959, according to the FBI's own files. History would later prove Curry right, but not before Hoover brought down the wrath of the bureau on Curry.
Most of all, reporters wanted to know when Curry would be transferring Oswald to the county jail. For some reason, it seemed like a matter of life or death to the members of the media; they didn't want to miss such a historic moment, and asked Curry about it repeatedly. Finally, late on November 23, Curry told the assembled journalists that if they would show up to headquarters by 10 the next morning, they wouldn't miss a thing.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover always maintained that he sent Jesse Curry a message on Sunday, November 24, demanding that Oswald be "afforded the utmost security" during his stay with the Dallas police. Curry always said Hoover never sent the message--or if he did, well, the chief just didn't receive it. Only last year, when 40,000 pages of Warren Commission documents were made public, there was the note.
But Curry didn't need to be told by Hoover or anyone else how important it was to guard Oswald. He wasn't about to let anything happen to the man. Not if he could help it.
Normally, the Sheriff's Department would have sent someone to fetch Oswald from the city jail; that was standard procedure after charges had been filed with the District Attorney's office. But according to an interview with sheriff's detective Bill Courson, which appears in Larry Sneed's 600-page oral history No More Silence, Sheriff Bill Decker didn't care whether the police department or the sheriff's department moved Oswald to the county jail. Although Decker had originally planned to retrieve Oswald, Courson, who died in 1990, insisted that Decker was happy to let Curry make it his problem. After all, Decker had known about the threats being made against Oswald; there had, in fact, been a phone call to police headquarters warning the cops that a hundred men were heading to Dallas to take Oswald--peacefully or by force.
Courson recalls that Decker told his officers, "Let them transfer the son of a bitch. I don't care nothing about it! They'll screw it up again!"
In a letter he wrote to City Manager Elgin Crull a month after the assassination, Curry explained that he had phoned Decker that Sunday morning. He told the sheriff that the police department was finished with Oswald and prepared to turn over its prisoner. In his book, Curry claimed he was surprised when Decker acted as if it didn't matter who moved Oswald. So Curry decided that the DPD had more manpower to guard him during the transfer, and that his officers would take the responsibility. Bill Courson, however, believed "that Jess Curry yielded to political pressure from Mayor Earle Cabell for the city to transfer Oswald."
When Curry got off the phone with Decker, he found assistant chief Charles Batchelor and deputy chief M.W. Stevenson, head of the Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.), and told them the police were in charge of the operation. They agreed that the safest way to move Oswald would be in an armored car, so Batchelor called Harold Fleming, the owner of the Armored Motor Service, and ordered two cars sent over right away. Fleming would call the police as soon as the cars were dispatched.
In his letter to Crull, Curry said that Batchelor and Stevenson then went down to check the basement, and in his book, Curry added that Stevenson also told the commanders in C.I.D. to stand by in case its officers were needed during the transfer. Other officers had been dispatched to intersections along Elm Street to clear traffic along the route to the county jail.
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."
"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.
During the late 1970s, Curry agreed to interviews with conspiracy theorists who saw him as a helpful man, compassionate to their cause. He never ruled out the idea of a second gunman; he simply never had proof anyone but Oswald killed Kennedy. It's possible that he considered the second-gunman theory because it gave him an out: If Oswald didn't act alone, maybe there's someone out there who can take his place in the jail cell Lee Harvey never saw. Maybe the Dallas cops can atone for their sins by catching the other killer.
Or maybe Jesse Curry wasn't done being a cop, and he still liked talking about the events of November 1963--still liked the chase, the adventure of being on the trail of assassins. Even Gene says that his father never stopped being a cop after he retired. Being on the force for 30 years, it was still too much a part of him.
And nobody--not the government that tried to undermine his authority, not the crazies who threatened and blamed him--could take that away from his father.
"Back then, we were considered a bunch of bumpkins who murdered the president," Gene says. "I mean, I didn't care what somebody from New York thought about Dallas, Texas, myself. But I cared about what somebody said about my father."
When asked what best defined Jesse Curry, Gene pauses and smiles. "My Dad loved his men. He loved Dallas. He loved people. And that was probably his weakness. From all the things that transpired, he probably underestimated what could have been done. It was a delegation type of thing, but you have to do that when you're chief of police. And sometimes, when you put a lot of faith in people, you get burned.