Friday, August 30, 2019

James R. Leavelle, dead at 99


James R. Leavelle, the legendary, iconic Dallas detective whose grimace in the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald captured the horror of a nation, has died. He was 99.

Leavelle had just celebrated his 99th birthday on Saturday with family and friends in Colorado. He fell and broke his hip on Monday and died Thursday while recovering from the surgery intended to mend the break.

I first met Jim in 1983 while conducting a series of interviews for a Michigan radio special that was broadcast to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the assassination. He was gracious, polite, and more than accommodating.

I soon learned that Jim could open doors for you that would otherwise remain closed. During research for my book, With Malice: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J.D. Tippit, the retired detective provided phone numbers and names of fellow officers I should talk with. If Jim said you were okay, you were gold. 

Jim was inundated with requests for interviews from all over the world. During the thirty-six years that I knew him, I tried to be mindful of his time and only called on him when I felt it was absolutely necessary. He never saw it that way, though. “Call me anytime,” he’d say. Not just to me, but to a lot of people. He was that kind of guy.

I think he liked the limelight, at first, but later grew tired of the same old questions and accusations. He told me once about going down to Dealey Plaza and hanging around to talk to people – many of them on the conspiracy side of the subject. Most of them wouldn’t have any idea who they were talking with, until he told them. “I thought you looked familiar!” they’d exclaim.

One fellow had a stack of paper about a foot high, Jim told me, and said it was his book manuscript and wanted to know if Jim would read it.

“I’m not going to read all that,” Jim replied. “Why don’t you just give me the bottom line?” The would-be author then laid out a complex web of deception and conspiracy involving members of the Dallas police force – many of whom Jim had worked with. Jim said all he could do was laugh and shake his head.

I leaned on Jim twice during the past three decades, and both times he responded without hesitation.

The first time was in November, 1998, when I invited him to come out to a book signing at Barnes and Noble in north Dallas to launch my book. He was joined by veteran Dallas reporter Hugh Aynesworth, retired FBI supervisor Robert P. Gemberling, and fellow retired Dallas police officers Paul L. Bentley and Walter R. Bardin.

The Barnes and Noble patrons were treated to a surprise, first-hand roundtable discussion about the events of the assassination from the men who were there. Across town, one-hundred-or-so JFK assassination researchers were attending an annual conference featuring the latest conspiracy theories. Sadly, they never knew what they missed.

The second time I called on Jim was in November, 2001, when I asked him to participate in an on-camera interview for a film I was producing at the time, Ordinary Hero: The J.D. Tippit Story. He heartedly agreed and brought along fellow retired officers Elmer L. Boyd and T.L. Baker. We spent a memorable afternoon together.

I later learned that Jim had some very kind things to say about me, which he expressed to J.D. Tippit’s youngest sister. Jim was never one to let a chance to offer a kind word slip by.

I never felt compelled to ask for Jim’s autograph. Knowing the man, as I did, was honor enough. And I wasn’t alone.

James Robert Leavelle was the consummate professional; a man of high ideals and the epitome of firm but compassionate law enforcement in the twentieth century. He led a full life and left behind many friends. May the same be said of us.

My sincere and humble condolences to his family and the many members of his extended police family who knew him and worked alongside him.

Jim, you were a true inspiration and I was proud to call you my friend. God love you. We sure did.


Bill said...

RIP and Farwell, Officer James Leavelle.

Paul C. said...

A very nice appreciation, thank you Dale.

4u2c1 said...

Who says the good guys don't wear a white hat.

Richard White said...

Thanks Dale, I'm sure he would have loved your kind and acurate eulogy.

Steve Howsley said...

Thanks Dale. That was a lovely tribute.