Jim Leavelle, a Dallas policeman shown in an iconic photo while handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald during a shocking shooting has died.
Jim Leavelle escorted Lee Harvey Oswald two days after the assassination of President John Kennedy. He entered history books moments later.
Sources close to Leavelle’s family told reporters he died Thursday during a trip to Colorado.
Leavelle, a homicide detective, talked to Oswald on the afternoon of Kennedy’s murder. At the time, Leavelle considered Oswald a suspect in the killing of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippett. He later recalled that he had no idea Oswald would soon be named a suspect in the assassination:
The Kennedy assassination represented the birth of breaking news on television. Throngs of reporters, print and broadcast, crowded into the hallways of the Dallas Police Department.
Leavelle made no bones about disliking their presence. He once commented that while he was walking with Oswald down a corridor, he felt something between his legs. A cameraman was on the floor shooting up at Oswald. Leavelle admitted to giving that cameraman a swift kick down the hall.
Iconic photo guaranteed Leavelle a place in history
On November 24, 1963, the day after Kennedy died, police planned to move Oswald to a safer location. Leavelle found himself handcuffed to Oswald for what should have been a simple trip.
Leavelle stood out, wearing a light-colored suit and a Stetson.
Moments before Oswald’s shooting, Leavelle said he had a brief moment of levity with him.
“I said to him, more in jest than anything else, I said, ‘Lee, if anyone shoots at you, I hope they’re as good a shot as you are.’ Meaning, of course, that they’d hit him and not me,” Leavelle told an interviewer for the documentary The End of Camelot. “And he kind of laughed. It’s the only time I heard him laugh during any time that he was in custody. And he said, ‘Oh, you’re just being melodramatic. There ain’t nobody gonna shoot at me.’”
Within minutes, Jack Ruby stepped from the crowd and fired at Oswald at point-blank range.
Lee Harvey Oswald died a short time later at the same hospital where Kennedy had been taken.
For the first time, American viewers witnessed a killing shown live on national television.
And photojournalist Bob Johnson’s famous photo, snapped the moment Ruby fired, guaranteed Leavelle’s place in history books and documentaries for generations to come.
Leavelle maintained his belief that Oswald was the lone assassin.
Leavelle retired from the Dallas Police Department in 1975. The Dallas Police Department recognized him for his service in 2013. That’s when they named the award for detective of the year in his honor.
It’s a shame he had to wait that long for such an honor. But I’m glad he did get the recognition.