Jim Leavelle, the longtime Dallas lawman who was captured in one of history’s most iconic photographs as he escorted President John F. Kennedy’s accused assassin when he was fatally shot, has died while visiting relatives in Denver. He was 99.
The transfer of Kennedy’s alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, to the county jail was being broadcast live nationally from the basement of Dallas police headquarters on Nov. 24, 1963. Leavelle, distinctive in his light-colored suit and white Stetson hat, is seen in the photograph with his hand on Oswald just as he is shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Leavelle’s body stiffens as Oswald grimaces in pain.
Leavelle’s daughter Tanya Evers said her father died Thursday while visiting her sister in Colorado. He fell earlier in the week and broke his hip, requiring surgery at a Denver hospital, Evers said Friday. He responded well to the surgery, she said, but then later suffered a heart attack.
In the decades after the assassination, Leavelle regularly spoke at schools and before various groups because he believed “he had a responsibility to share his story,” said Evers, who lives in San Antonio.
Her father through the decades received mail nearly every day from people asking questions about the assassination or invoking any one of several conspiracy theories, she said.
“He really felt a need to address the theories,” Evers said. “He wanted to make sure that people knew there was no conspiracy and that one misguided person could take a shot at a president and succeed.”
Leavelle joined the Dallas police force in 1950 and retired from active service in 1975. He was among the lead detectives assigned to investigate Kennedy’s Nov. 22, 1963, assassination.
In 2013, Dallas police commanders honored Leavelle with the Police Commendation Award and announced the department’s Detective of the Year Award would be named for him. In accepting the honor, Leavelle said he was thinking of other deserving officers, including J.D. Tippit, who most historians agree was shot and killed by Oswald when Tippit stopped Oswald to question him some 45 minutes after Kennedy’s assassination.
In comments after that presentation, Leavelle said that when he saw an armed Ruby approach in the basement of Dallas police headquarters, he tried unsuccessfully to jerk Oswald behind him to shield him from harm.
“Him being real close all I did was turn his body so instead of the bullet hitting him dead center it hit about three or four inches to the left of the navel,” Leavelle said.
The photo that captured the attack was taken by Robert H. Jackson, a photographer for the Dallas Times Herald who won a Pulitzer Prize for his image.