The Witnesses

What they saw then. Who they are now.

November 1998By Comments

Bill and Gayle Newman

Both 57, Mesquite
Then Electrician and housewife
Now Co-own an electrical contracting business

Gayle: “We knew the parade route, and we came on downtown, parked the car, and walked down the street until the crowd thinned out because the children were quite small. You could hear the sounds of the crowd and the car coming. And as the car turned the corner and came toward us, we heard a noise. I thought it was a firecracker. Then, as they got closer to us, directly in front of us, that other shot hit the side of his head, and we heard Jackie holler, ‘Oh, my God, no. They shot Jack!’ And Bill turned to us and said, ‘That’s it! Hit the ground!’ We put the children on the ground and shielded them with our bodies because we thought we were in direct cross fire.”

Bill: “My reaction at that moment was that we narrowly missed being shot by that third shot. I thought the shot must have come from behind because of the way President Kennedy reacted to it. My focus was on the car, and I reacted to what I saw in the car. You know, I just hate to see that interview of me on WFAA back then. I sound like I’m straight out of East Texas. But I said [when asked where the shots came from], ‘That little knoll, that little knoll back there’—something like that. And I did have a man tell me, you know, you’re the first person to use that term. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t confirm that.”

Pierce Allman

64, Highland Park
Then Director of production and programming at WFAA radio
Now President of Allman and Company, Dallas public relations firm

“I remember thinking, instinctively, ‘I’ve got to get to a telephone.’ I ran into the depository building, asked the guy where the phone was, went inside, got on the phone, called the station, told them what happened. Put the phone down, ran upstairs, then realized, ‘Whoops! Need the phone,’ went back down, called back and said, ‘Just leave the line open, strap on a tape.’ No one ever challenged me. No one ever said, ‘Who are you? Who are you calling?’ And no one took charge. A lot of uniforms milling around, a lot of plainclothesmen milling around.

“The Secret Service came to see me a couple of days later. They went through the timing, the sequence, where did you go, what did you say, what did you do, and they kept going through that. They wanted to know about hand gestures, the whole thing. And they said, ‘Are you familiar with the testimony of Lee Harvey Oswald?’ They said that he stated that as he was leaving the depository building, a young man with a crew cut rushed up, identified himself as a newsman, and asked where the phone was. And they said, ‘Your sequence, your gestures, everything you’ve said corroborates exactly what he has said. Can you give us an identification?’ I said no. And we went through this time after time. I said, ‘Guys, this is going to be power of suggestion. All I can remember is white male with dark hair, and slender, and his gesture toward the phone.’ Anyway, I said, ‘Are you saying that I asked Oswald where the phone was?’ And they said yes, and they wanted an identification. And I couldn’t ID him, even after looking at the pictures, you know, later on.”

Bobby Hargis

66, Irving
Then Motorcycle patrolman, Dallas Police Department
Now Detective, Dallas Police Department (will retire in December)

“I was trying to find out where those shots came from. I saw up on the grassy knoll people falling down—people around me were hitting the ground. I ran up to the grassy knoll to look at the railroad tracks and couldn’t see anybody up there. So I ran back down and got on my motorcycle, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe he might be on the other side.’ So I motored down underneath the underpass and looked on the other side and didn’t see anyone over there, so I came back. It struck my mind the president’s head went to his left, forward and left, so it meant that anything that hit him in the head had to come over his right shoulder. From that, I was looking up at the school book depository. I rode over there and that was when we all surrounded the school book depository and took our positions.

“When Kennedy was shot in the head, brain matter and blood and stuff had all come over and hit me as I rode through it. Well, I did all the rest of these things that I talked about, then I walked over to the sheriff’s office, and while I was walking over to it, a guy came up to me and offered me $17,000 for my helmet. I told the guy, ‘You’re going to have to talk to the City of Dallas,’ because it didn’t belong to me. And [fellow police officer] Bud Brewer says, ‘Bob, you got something on your lip.’ And he flicked at it, and it was a piece of Kennedy’s brain and a piece of skull bone.

“You know, I coined that word, for any better reason than saying ‘grassy bank’—I just said ‘grassy knoll.’ And it stuck.”

Rosemary Willis Roach

45, Amarillo
Then Fifth grader, Lakewood Elementary School
Now Works for an Amarillo telecommunications company

“As the motorcade made the turn from Houston to Elm Street, they’d just gone a few feet when the first shot rang out. I didn’t know what it was, but I was looking for what I heard. And the pigeons immediately ascended off that roof of the school book depository building—that’s what caught my eye. The second shot that I heard came from behind my right shoulder. By that time the limousine had already moved farther down. And the next one, right after that, still came from the right but not from as far back—it was up some. Still behind me, but not as far back as the other one. And the next one that came was from the grassy knoll, and I saw the smoke coming through the trees, into the air, and fragments of his head ascended into the air, and from my vision, focal point, the smoke and the fragments, you know, everything met. I mean, there’s no question in my mind what I saw or what I heard.”

James Leavelle

78, Dallas
Then Detective, Dallas Police Department
Now Retired

“I told him on the way down, ‘Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they’re as good a shot as you are.’ Meaning they’d hit him and not me. And he kind of laughed, and he said, ‘Ah, you’re being melodramatic,’ or something like that. ‘Nobody’s going to shoot me.’ I could see Jack [Ruby] when he came out of the crowd with that pistol, but it took a little less than a second and a half, or like two seconds, for that to take place. You can’t do too much in that length of time. I had jerked on [Oswald] to pull him behind me, but I was so close to him, instead of moving him, I just turned his body, and instead of hitting dead center, the bullet hit about four inches to the left of the navel. He never said a word all the time. I know it’s been said many times that he made some dying declarations, but if he made any dying declarations, he made them after I locked him in the morgue.

“If Chief [Jesse] Curry had followed my suggestion that morning, it wouldn’t have happened. I told him, ‘You know, this elevator from the jail stops right here on the first floor. We could take him off here on the first floor, put him in a car on Main Street, and be in the county jail before any people realized we’ve even moved.’ And his answer to me was, ‘Leavelle, I’ve given my word they can film the transfer, and I’m going to keep it.’ If he’d have followed my suggestion, why, we’d have got him down there safely, we’d have got him in the county jail without any problem, we’d have got him to court without any problem, we could have got him convicted and got the death penalty on him, and he could still be down there on death row with appeals pending, thirty-five years later.”

Waggoner Carr

80, Austin
Then Attorney general of Texas
Now Semi-retired lawyer

“President Kennedy came up to me and said, ‘Waggoner, I just wanted to tell you how delighted we are at the reception we’re getting in Texas; it’s just wonderful.’ He added that he heard I was going to leave them to go speak in Dumas but that I was rejoining the party that night in Austin at the final stop, the big deal of the whole tour. I said, ‘Yes, sir. I’ll see you tonight in Austin.’ Then I got into the private plane to fly to Dumas, and of course they left to Dallas. Then, when I landed in Dumas, I was told that the president had been assassinated. Which was unbelievable because I’d just shaken his hand and talked with him. And unbelievable also that such a thing could happen in Texas. I flew back to Austin to my office to be ready in case any legal problems came up.

“I spoke with President Johnson on November twenty-fifth. The attorney general of Texas has the power to investigate such crimes, and the president told me to do what I had to do to uphold the law of the State of Texas. I proposed holding a court of inquiry in Texas, and he agreed and asked me to hold a press conference but not answer any questions. I called a conference for the Texas press in Washington. Well, the world press showed up. I read the statement announcing that Texas was convening a court of inquiry and walked out without taking questions. I was followed by all these hostile voices. ‘Are you really the attorney general of Texas? You son of a bitch from Texas. What are you running for? Why don’t you answer our questions, you son of a bitch.’

“Shortly after the president appointed the Warren Commission, he made it clear he needed to centralize the investigation and suggested that I cooperate with the commission—the limitation of my investigation would stop at the state line. I decided to follow his wishes. Otherwise, between Texas, the FBI, and the Senate all conducting investigations, it would have been a fourteen-ring circus.”

Nellie Connally

79, Houston
Then First lady of Texas
Now Volunteer charity fundraiser

“I looked toward the sound [of a shot], which is where the president was, and I saw his hands fly up to his face, and then I saw him sink down. Shot number one. John Connally was trying to see him—he looked to his right, and he couldn’t see the president. John was afraid they were shooting, and he turned left to see if he could see him, and in the process of turning back John was shot. Second shot. I pulled him down in my lap because I didn’t want them to hurt him anymore. I didn’t want them to shoot at him anymore. And while I had him in my lap, there was another shot. And my reaction to that was: bloody matter all over the car, it fell all over us. Third shot. John had his hat in his hand. He always had that hat somewhere. He had the hat in his hand when I pulled him over and crouched him down, and he was holding that hat up against him. We closed that wound that would’ve killed him before we got to the hospital. I didn’t know we were saving his life.

“I think that they ought to let the president rest in peace.…people still want to argue about a lot of things. John said, ‘You know, in this country no one could have kept a secret like this all of these years.’ And they couldn’t.”

Red Duke

69, Houston
Then Chief resident surgeon at Parkland hospital, Dallas
Now Professor of surgery at UT-Houston Medical School

“When I saw Mrs. Kennedy with all this blood and other tissue on her dress, on her suit, I knew we were in trouble. I put on a pair of gloves, walked on around behind the president, and three other fellas were working on this hole in his neck. I saw this huge wound in his head. Somebody said there’s a guy across the hall who needs some help, so I went across the hall and there was one intern just standing there—he was as white as his coat. But right quick I knew what the problem was. A large sucking chest wound—there was a big hole in this patient’s chest. I don’t know when I figured out it was Governor Connally. So I got that stopped up and put a chest tube in him, which would allow him to breathe. Got IV’s in him. We took him upstairs and [Dr. Robert Shaw] operated on him. I stayed with him. We did not have intensive care units in 1963, so we kept him in the recovery room. I never left. I just slept right there. The first time I went upstairs Sunday morning—the first time I ever left the recovery room and went upstairs to make rounds on all the other patients—Oswald got shot, and we went through that same loop again. It was one of those moments when you felt like there was a great pall, a cloud that descended upon where we were. In fact, my three-year-old daughter, whom I didn’t see until Sunday night, she prayed a prayer—my wife told me this—she said, ‘The world is dark, and we are very sad. Amen.’”

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