Obituary: Jim Leavelle
Detective who featured in a famous photograph of the shooting of JFK's suspected assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald
Jim Leavelle, who has died aged 99, was the detective escorting Lee Harvey Oswald when, in a moment immortalised in photographs, the suspected assassin of President Kennedy was himself fatally shot as he left Dallas police headquarters.
Three days earlier, at 12.30pm on Friday, November 22, 1963, the president's motorcade had come under fire. About 45 minutes later, a police patrolman, J D Tippit, stopped Oswald's vehicle.
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He answered the description of a suspect seen leaving the Texas Book Depository, from where the shots were thought to have come. Oswald, a former Marine marksman, fired at Tippit four times with a pistol, killing him, before being arrested soon after hiding in a cinema.
Although his account varied slightly in the retelling, Leavelle's recollection was that he first spoke to Oswald when he was brought into police headquarters that afternoon. "I sat down and started talking to him strictly about the shooting of Tippit," Leavelle said. "I had no clue that he was going to be the suspect in the presidential assassination."
However, Oswald's denial to reporters in the corridor - "I didn't shoot anybody" - suggested to Leavelle that he may have been involved in more killings than that of Tippit. By early the next morning, Oswald had been arraigned for the shooting of the president as well.
That was the extent of Leavelle's contact with Oswald until about 11.15am on Sunday. Then he and another detective, L C Graves, handcuffed themselves to Oswald and prepared to take him from the basement of the building to an armoured car outside, which would convey Oswald to the county jail.
There had been threats against Oswald and Leavelle claimed that as they were leaving he said: "Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they are as good a shot as you." Oswald replied: "You're being melodramatic."
As the trio exited the building, Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner, stepped forward from the crowd outside, a pistol by his side. "I saw him out of the corner of my eye," recalled Leavelle. "I jerked back on Oswald to get him behind me. I had my hand through his belt. All I succeeded in doing, I turned him, so instead of dead centre the bullet hit four inches to the left of his navel."
Graves seized Ruby's gun, preventing him from shooting again. "I could see Ruby's fingers flexing on the trigger, trying to fire," said Leavelle. He put Oswald in an ambulance and tried to take his pulse but heard only a sigh and a groan. Oswald was pronounced dead in hospital.
Ruby said his motive had been to spare the president's widow the distress of seeing Oswald on trial. He was convicted of his murder but died of cancer in 1967, claiming he had not told the whole truth.
The child of farmers, James Robert Leavelle was born outside Detroit in north-east Texas on August 23, 1920. After education at Detroit High School he joined the US Navy.
In December 1941 he was serving aboard Whitney, a destroyer tender which supplied ships, at Pearl Harbor. He was chatting to a colleague when they noticed what proved to be Japanese aircraft attacking the main fleet, anchored two miles away.
Whitney was not damaged, but the following year it was pummelled for three days by a typhoon. Leavelle fell 10ft down a stairwell on to a steel deck and his knees swelled up like footballs. He was sent to the mainland for treatment and met his wife, Taimi Snelma, a nurse, in the hospital.
Discharged from active service, he subsequently worked in an Army Air Force warehouse and for the Veterans Administration Department.
In 1950 he moved to Dallas and joined the police, becoming a robbery and then homicide detective. After retiring in 1975 he set up a polygraph business. He gave many interviews about the Kennedy assassination, agreeing with the official line that Oswald had acted alone.
His wife died in 2014 and their son also predeceased him. He is survived by two daughters. Jim Leavelle died on August 29.