Monday, 25th November 1963. Three men are laid to rest in America. Three men who did not know each other, who had never met each other, but whose fates were tragically intertwined.
JD Tippit was laid to rest in Dallas, Texas, with his grieving wife and three young children in attendance. His funeral procession was given a guard of honour by hundreds of Dallas policemen. On Friday 22nd November he had stepped out of his patrol car and been shot at point blank range by an assailant, who had then ducked into a cinema to hide. Tippit was 39 years old when he died.
Dallas Police Officer JD Tippit (wikipedia)
Lee Harvey Oswald in his Marine days (wikipedia)
Lee Harvey Oswald was buried in Fort Worth, not far from Dallas. In attendance was his wife, their two young children, his mother, his brother, and several armed FBI agents. On Friday 22nd November he had left his place of work at the Texas School Book Depository and within an hour had shot officer JD Tippit as he stepped out of his car. Arrested in a cinema, he was taken into custody but was himself shot and killed as he was being transferred to another jail on Sunday 24th November. He was 24 years old when he died.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was given a state funeral in Washington DC and laid to rest in Arlington cemetery, with a grieving nation, indeed a grieving world, watching on television. On Friday 22nd November he had arrived in Dallas with his wife Jacqueline, known to an adoring public as Jackie, and climbed into an open top car for a parade through the city. As the motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza, he was shot twice – once through the neck and once in the head. He was rushed to hospital but pronounced dead soon after arriving. He was 46 years old when he died.
President John F Kennedy (wikipedia)
Three men from completely different backgrounds, completely different walks of life, who were all fated to die violent deaths in the same city over the same weekend. The following is an account of those historic few days, detailing how each man came to meet their fate.
(Note – All times are US central standard time, unless stated)
Friday, 22nd November 1963
There is only one topic of conversation for Dallas police officer JD Tippit and his wife, Marie, as they eat breakfast together. The president is coming to town today. The Tippits both voted for John F Kennedy in 1960 and wish they could take their children to see him, but both of them will be working. Tippit is a doting husband and father who has recently built a playhouse in the garden for his children. They are still asleep when he leaves the house. He stops by to see his sister on his way to work, but is at the station before 8am. It is sure to be a busy day.
A young JD and Marie Tippit (Pinterest)
President John F Kennedy rises early in the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth. He showers and then puts his back brace on before dressing. Kennedy has suffered from health problems all his life, not least of which is a chronic bad back, so he needs his brace for gruelling days such as the one ahead. He is due to give two speeches that morning in Fort Worth before making his way to Dallas and giving a lunchtime speech at the city’s trade mart.
Kennedy has been nervous about the trip south. After years of inaction, in June he had finally come out forcefully in support of the civil rights movement and was attempting to pass a civil rights act through congress. He is comfortable that it was the right thing to do morally, but politically it has given him a real headache. Southern, segregationist Democrats are furious with him and his support in the southern states is wavering. That is what this trip is about – to strengthen his faltering position in the south ahead of his 1964 re-election campaign. For good measure, he has brought Lyndon B Johnson, his vice-president and a proud Texan, along for the trip. Also on the trip is his wife, Jackie, who sensed her husband’s unease and has decided to make a rare political appearance with him. The Kennedys have not always enjoyed a happy marriage – John is a notorious womaniser and has had numerous affairs – but friends and family have noticed that the couple have been closer than ever before since the death of their infant son, Patrick, in the summer. Their surviving son, John Jr, will turn three on Monday and they have planned a party for him. The Kennedys can’t wait to get back to Washington.
Lee Harvey Oswald and his family have been staying at a friends’ house in suburban Dallas. A former marine sharpshooter who has spent time in the Soviet Union, he has recently got a job stacking shelves at the Texas School Book Depository downtown, and has organised to grab a lift from a co-worker. That morning he is carrying a long, thin package and as he climbs into the car his colleague asks what it is. ‘Curtain rods’, comes the reply, in a tone that does not invite any further conversation. The colleague shrugs. Lee has never been much of a talker.
The day has dawned grey and wet in Fort Worth, but a sizable crowd has gathered in the Hotel Texas car park where President Kennedy is due to give a brief speech. Kennedy peers down from his window and is relieved to see that the crowd seem supportive and welcoming. Vice-president Johnson is sent downstairs to warm them up, while Kennedy waits for Jackie to get dressed. By 8:45 he gives up waiting and makes his way downstairs, shaking hands with people in the crowd before climbing onto the back of a truck and giving his speech. Half an hour later he is back inside, giving a more substantive speech to 2,000 guests gathered for a breakfast in the hotel ballroom. The room bursts into spontaneous applause when Jackie Kennedy enters at around 9:30, dressed in a pink Chanel suit.
Officer JD Tippit pulls up at a diner at the start of his patrol and discusses the president’s visit with a fellow officer. They are both apprehensive about the day to come. Kennedy is not a popular man in Dallas and many in the police force are worried sick that something will happen to him. Tippit and his buddy agree that they’re glad they aren’t assigned to the parade downtown.
President Kennedy is a happy man. His breakfast speech has gone down well, and he managed to avoid a media headache when he politely declined to put on a Stetson hat that had been presented to him at the end of the gathering. As he and Jackie retire to their room for a brief rest, he is given a copy of that day’s Dallas Morning News, which has a front-page accusing Kennedy of being beholden to communists. He holds it up for Jackie to see and smiles wryly. ‘We’re heading into nut country today’, he says.
One of President Kennedy’s aides receives a call from Dallas. Kennedy is due to travel through the city in a motorcade, and the driver of the presidential limousine wants to know if he should put the roof on the car or not. The aide is torn – the president won’t be best pleased if he is sitting in an open car during a rainstorm, but at the same time he will want to be able to wave to the crowd. The aide decides that the roof will stay off unless it pours with rain. The roof is technically see-through, but no one would be able to get a proper look at the first couple because the glass is bulletproof.
John and Jackie Kennedy board air force one in Fort Worth for the flight to Dallas. It is only a ten-minute flight and it would probably be more sensible to drive, but the President’s aides have decided that flying would make for a more impressive arrival.
Lee Harvey Oswald is listening quietly as a colleague excitedly explains how the presidential motorcade is due to pass their building.
John and Jackie Kennedy arrive in Dallas (New York Daily News)
Air force one lands at Dallas’ Love Field airport and taxis to a stop. Several journalists bundle out of the front door, and moments later Jackie and John Kennedy emerge from the back door. Kennedy surveys the crowd. He quickly realises that not everyone is there to welcome him – there are a couple of confederate flags and signs condemning his liberal policies. But a politician as gifted as him is not so easily deterred. After shaking hands with local dignitaries at the bottom of the stairs, he and Jackie work the crowd and shake hands with as many people as they can. The runway is now bathed in sunshine and the Kennedys look every bit as glamorous as the crowd had hoped they would – Jackie with her pink suit and flawless hair, John in a perfectly tailored grey suit, with a blue shirt and navy tie. A television reporter tells his audience that he can spot the President’s suntan from a mile off. Unbeknownst to anyone outside of his circle, Kennedy’s tan is merely a side effect from medication he is taking for his numerous health problems.
Though they both work, JD and Marie Tippit try to spend their lunch breaks together at home. They usually spend the whole hour together, but after finishing his sandwiches JD is anxious to be back on patrol as soon as possible, in case something happens with the president’s visit. He can’t wait for the day to be over, for the president to be gone, and for a weekend at home with his family to begin.
The Kennedys are seated in the back row of the presidential limousine, with Texas governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie, sitting in the front seats. The glorious sunshine means that the roof is off, making the secret service detail very nervous as they follow in the vice-presidential limousine with Lyndon Johnson. They are even more nervous when Kennedy suddenly orders his driver to halt. He has spotted a sign held by a group of children on the side of the road, asking him to stop and shake their hands. Kennedy gladly grants the children’s wishes, and their mothers are beside themselves with excitement.
On the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building, Lee Harvey Oswald organises some boxes so that he is hidden from view. He settles by the window overlooking Dealey Plaza, and opens the package he had taken to work with him. It doesn’t contain any curtain rods.
Crowds gather at Dealey Plaza on the morning of 22nd November 1963. The Texas School Book Depository building looms over the plaza (pinterest)
President Kennedy is still a happy man. He had not expected such a warm welcome in one of the most conservative cities in the country. Rows and rows of people have lined the streets of Dallas to see him. Well, to see him and his wife. He is well aware that the crowds might not be quite so large if Jackie wasn’t with him, and if he didn’t know already then he certainly knows now that he must get her to join him on more political trips as he gears up for the 1964 election.
Lee Harvey Oswald gazes at the street below him. The crowds are large and excited. He can hear the cheers in the distance. The president is near.
The presidential motorcade turns onto Elm street, which runs along the north end of Dealey plaza. This is the last stretch of crowd they will see before they head through an underpass and onto the highway to the trade mart. The president is still waving to the crowd, but as the car speeds up and heads away his thoughts turn to the speech he has to give in a few minutes’ time. His thoughts are interrupted when Nellie Connally turns to him and says, ‘you certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a warm welcome.’ ‘No, you certainly can’t’, agrees Kennedy. These are the last words he ever says.
Lee Harvey Oswald aims his rifle, squints through the scope, and squeezes the trigger.
Several people hear a loud crack, as if a firework has just gone off. Clint Hill, a secret service agent assigned to protect Jackie Kennedy, knows instinctively that it is a gunshot. He jumps from the vice-presidential limousine and races towards the first couple.
Oswald realises that his first shot has missed. He steadies himself, aims again, and fires a second bullet.
John F Kennedy suddenly grabs his throat, staring at Jackie with a confused look on his face. At the same time, John Connally screams in pain and falls into his wife’s lap. Oswald’s second bullet has passed through Kennedy’s throat, then through Connally’s seat and into the governor’s back. The fact that Connally has collapsed has shielded him from further shots. Kennedy, who is still grabbing frantically at his throat, is held upright by his back brace.
Lee Harvey Oswald aims and fires for a third time.
Jackie Kennedy is panicking. In front of her, John Connally is screaming ‘they’re going to kill us all!’ as his wife cradles him in her arms. Beside her, John Kennedy has blood streaming from his throat and is struggling to say anything. Behind her, she can see Clint Hill racing toward her in the corner of her eye. Suddenly, her husband’s head simply explodes. Bits of skull and brain fragment fly around the car, and he collapses into her lap. Jackie screams and jumps up, turning round to see Clint Hill jumping onto the back of the car. She stretches her arm out to reach him as the driver, realising something dreadful has happened, slams his foot on the accelerator and speeds toward the underpass.
Jackie Kennedy desperately tries to reach for Clint Hill at the back of the car as the driver slams his foot on the accelerator. The president is slouched in the back seat (Standard-Examiner)
Sitting in his patrol car, JD Tippit hears the words he had dreaded. A message goes out on police radio ordering all available units to attend a major incident at Dealey Plaza. He knows that the president was due to go through the plaza. His heart sinks.
Lee Harvey Oswald stuffs his rifle behind some boxes and leaves the building. Most people are far too distracted to notice him.
But not all people. A man has spotted Oswald and noticed how calm he is as he walks away from the scenes of utter pandemonium on Dealey Plaza. He is suspicious enough to tell a nearby policeman, and soon the message is out on police radio to search for a white male with a slim build and dark hair, standing at a height of five feet ten inches. JD Tippit hears the call and scans the streets as he heads towards the plaza.
Doctors at Parkland memorial hospital have been informed that a white male suffering from a gunshot wound is on his way to A&E. They are stunned when they open the door to find Jackie Kennedy in front of them, her pink suit now turning crimson with blood. They cut the president’s shirt from his body and begin a heart massage, but they know there is nothing they can do to save him.
Lee Harvey Oswald had hopped on a bus after leaving the scene of his crime, but it was getting held up in traffic amid the chaos. He has now swapped the bus for a cab, heading south and putting some distance between himself and the scene of the crime.
Millions of Americans are sitting at home watching a daytime soap opera called As the World Turns. The programme is interrupted by a CBS News bulletin:
In downtown Dallas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.
The soap opera then returns to the screen.
Though everyone in Parkland hospital’s trauma room one knows Kennedy is dead, Jackie is adamant that he will not be officially declared so until a Catholic priest has arrived to administer the last rites. The president’s aides start calling local undertakers to find a coffin.
Lee Harvey Oswald has retrieved a pistol from his temporary accommodation, and is now wandering aimlessly around the Oak Cliff area of Dallas.
The police dispatcher realises that it is pointless having every officer in Dealey Plaza. The worst has already happened and the assassin has probably fled. He orders JD Tippit to make his way to Oak Cliff.
A Catholic priest has administered the last rites to John F Kennedy, and he is now officially pronounced dead. One of his press secretaries, Malcolm ‘Mac’ Kilduff, is chosen to make the announcement public. He has to wipe away tears and compose himself.
JD Tippit is in Oak Cliff, his mind whirling at a thousand miles an hour. Though there is no official news on Kennedy’s condition, he knows the situation is grim. Even if the president pulls through, the reputation of Dallas, not least the city’s police department, will be horribly stained. As he cruises down tenth street, he spots a man who instantly arouses his suspicion. He is white, slim, has dark hair and is about five feet ten inches tall. Tippit’s suspicions are further aroused when the man spots him in his patrol car and turns in another direction.
Lee Harvey Oswald is nervous, walking briskly away from the police car on tenth street. He hopes the officer ignores him, but reaches for the pistol in his jacket pocket just in case.
JD Tippit catches up with his suspect and pulls up alongside him. He winds down his passenger window and leans over to order him to stop, before opening his door and stepping out of the car.
Lee Harvey Oswald has stopped and is watching the policeman step out of his car. He is panicking. As the officer walks across the front of the car towards him, his panic gets the better of him. In an instant, he pulls the pistol from his jacket and fires three times.
Officer Tippit falls to floor in front of his car. He may or may not still be alive to see Lee Harvey Oswald stand over him and fire a final shot into his head. He is definitely not alive afterward.
Lee Harvey Oswald sprints away from tenth street as a witness rushes to the car. The witness grabs the police radio through the open passenger window and calls for urgent assistance.
JD Tippit's patrol car sits where he had stopped it in Oak Cliff (Oak Cliff Advocate)
Outside Parkland hospital, journalists and members of the public notice flags being pulled down to half-mast. They know exactly what that means. Mac Kilduff then steps out of the building to confirm that the president has died.
1:38pm Central Time/2:38pm Eastern Time
At the CBS News desk in New York, anchor Walter Cronkite has been updating a shocked nation with the latest reports from Dallas. He is handed a note and has to steady himself, wiping his lip before he reads it aloud:
From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1pm central standard time, 2 o’clock eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago.
He noticeably swallows a lump in his throat and has to stop himself from crying. This moment will become one of the most famous in broadcasting history.
Lee Harvey Oswald darts into a cinema without paying for a ticket. The cashier assistant, who has no idea about the earth-shattering events that have occurred in the past hour or so, is unimpressed and calls the police. Upon getting a description of Oswald, the police surround and swarm the building. By 2 o’clock he has been arrested, after a struggle in which he sustains a black eye.
Vice-president Lyndon Johnson is on board air force one, realising that he is about to be sworn in as president. It is a moment he has waited for all his life, indeed a moment he believes was stolen from him by Kennedy in 1960, but this is certainly not how he had imagined it would arrive. Minutes later, he is sworn in as the 36th president of the United States, with a dazed Jackie Kennedy standing next to him and with John F Kennedy’s body lying in a coffin at the back of the plane. Johnson is adamant that it is right that he is sworn in as soon as possible for national security reasons, but Kennedy’s staff are furious with him for being so crass. The plane takes off for Washington at around 2:45.
Lee Harvey Oswald is booked at Dallas city jail and officially charged with the murder of officer JD Tippit. His guilt on that charge is not really in doubt, but authorities are sure he has also killed the president. All order has broken down in the jail and the world’s media are breezing around at will, shouting questions and trying to speak with Oswald.
The identity of the slain policeman is not officially announced to the public, but JD Tippit’s name is doing the rounds on local radio stations. These reports are heard separately by his two brothers, Don and Wayne. They call their sisters, Joyce, Edith and Christine, to see if it is true. The siblings can’t figure out between them if the reports are accurate or not. Christine calls Marie, who then frantically calls the police station to find out if her husband has been killed. The policeman on the other end confirms that JD is dead, and a heartbroken Marie is forced to call her brothers and sisters-in-law with the awful news.
5pm Central Time/6pm Eastern Time
Air force one lands in Washington and the coffin is rather ungraciously bundled out of the back door. Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General and the slain president’s younger brother, embraces Jackie as she steps out, her pink suit still covered in her husband’s blood. President Johnson gives a few brief remarks to the media gathered on the runway.
Caroline Kennedy, John and Jackie’s six-year-old daughter, is picked up by a secret service agent from a friend’s house. She is upset that her sleepover has been cancelled, and wonders why the burly secret service man is wiping tears from his eyes as he drives.
The Tippit family have gathered at JD and Marie’s house when a call comes in. It is the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. He extends his sincerest condolences on behalf on the Kennedy family, and then says quietly that JD Tippit may be alive if his brother hadn’t visited Dallas. Through tears, Marie replies that both murdered men were only doing their jobs, and that JD had admired the president a great deal. It is all Robert Kennedy can do to stop himself from breaking down on the other end of the line. A few days later, Jackie Kennedy will send a picture to Marie with an engraving expressing her condolences and her belief that they both must tell their children what brave men their fathers were.
Saturday, 23rd November 1963
Lee Harvey Oswald is officially charged with the murder of President Kennedy, on top of the existing charge for the murder of JD Tippit.
3am Central Time/4am Eastern Time
Some of John F Kennedy’s many siblings and siblings-in-law have gathered at the White House to support Jackie and the children. His sister, Eunice Kennedy, and her husband, Sargent Shriver, have spent the night making sure the east room of the White House is sufficiently decorated to receive the coffin. The coffin is brought in to lie in repose.
JD Tippit’s body is lying in a less glamorous location – a local funeral home.
Jackie and Robert Kennedy are taken for a viewing around Arlington cemetery, the military cemetery just outside Washington where the president had visited eleven days before his death to lay a wreath on veteran’s (armistice) day. Jackie decides her husband shall be buried there. Many had assumed Kennedy would be buried in his native Massachusetts, but Jackie’s word is final.
Sunday, 24th November 1963
Lee Harvey Oswald has been questioned about his role in the president’s murder but is giving nothing away. A decision has been made to move him from the city jail to a more secure county jail at around lunchtime.
11:30am Central Time/12:30pm Eastern Time
The president’s body is due to be moved from the White House to the capitol building to lie in state for another day. Jackie and Robert Kennedy request to see the body again, and when the coffin is opened they both weep openly. Jackie asks for a pair of scissors, and when these are brought to her she gently cuts a few strands of her husband’s hair from his body. The coffin is then closed, never to be opened again.
12pm Central Time/1pm Eastern Time
The president’s coffin is taken to the capitol building in a sombre horse-drawn procession. The only sounds that break the eerie silence are from the horses’ feet and the sobs from the thousands of people who have lined the streets.
In front of a crowd of journalists and cameras, Lee Harvey Oswald is marched out of a door in the basement of the city jail and towards a waiting police van. A local nightclub owner named Jack ‘Ruby’ Rubenstein steps out from the crowd with a revolver and shoots him in the torso at point blank range. Amid the commotion, two voices can be heard – one belongs to a news reporter reporting on live television: ‘He’s been shot! He’s been shot!’ The other belongs to the detective who was walking with Oswald and has recognised Jack Ruby: ‘Jack, you son of a bitch!’
Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald on live television (WKYC.com)
A crowd gathered outside the city jail enthusiastically applaud when they hear that Oswald has been shot. They hail Jack Ruby as a hero, and demand that he not be arrested for the great service he has just performed for the nation.
Lee Harvey Oswald is pronounced dead at Parkland hospital, where President Kennedy had died just over 48 hours previously.
Jack Ruby is pleased when he is told that Oswald is dead. He claims he killed Oswald because he was angry about the president’s death, and that he ‘did it for Jackie’.
In killing Oswald he has killed any chance of finding out if Oswald had acted alone in the president’s assassination. The fact that Ruby has ties to the mafia causes rampant speculation that he was ordered to kill Oswald to cover up a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. Ruby himself dies from cancer before he can stand trial, and conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s death remain popular to this day.
Monday, 25th November 1963
Three men are laid to rest in America. Three men who did not know each other, who had never met each other, but whose fates were tragically intertwined.
Three Deaths, Three Widows:
Marina Oswald at her husband's funeral, with her child in her lap and her brother-in-law, Robert Oswald, seated next to her (Texas Monthly)
Jackie Kennedy at her husband's funeral, flanked by her brothers-in-law, Robert and Edward Kennedy (Town and Country magazine)
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The Ministry of History is not an academic source. I am well-versed in, and influenced by, numerous sources that I have read over the years. For this article, I must acknowledge the great help I have had from the following sources:
‘November 22nd – what happened?’, article published by JDTippit.com
The Assassination of JFK: Minute by Minute, book by Johnathon Mayo