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Jim Leavelle (1920–2019), police officer was escorting Lee Harvey Oswald when he was shot

AP Photo / Discovery Communications LLC / Matt Strasen

Leavelle is prominent in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the moment Ruby shot Oswald

James R. “Jim” Leavelle was a Dallas Police Department homicide detective who was escorting Lee Harvey Oswald when he was shot by Jack Ruby. Oswald, who had assassinated President John F. Kennedy two days earlier, died shortly after the shooting. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of the moment Ruby shot Oswald, Leavelle is prominent, a tall man wearing a tan suit and Stetson hat, handcuffed to Oswald and reacting with shock. Leavelle later said that he had seen Ruby out of the corner of his eye and had tried to get Oswald behind him, but he was too late. Prior to his service with the Dallas Police Department, Leavelle had served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked in December 7, 1941. Leavelle retired from the police department in 1976 and went on to found a polygraph business.

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Died: August 29, 2019 (Who else died on August 29?)

Details of death: Died at a hospital in Denver at the age of 99.


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An uncanny conversation: As he recounted the events leading up to the shot that killed Oswald, Leavelle told the story of an exchange he had with Oswald that became unsettling in the aftermath. At the time, Oswald was suspected of killing the president as well as murdering Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit shortly after Kennedy’s assassination. As they walked through the police station basement, Leavelle joked to Oswald, “Lee, if anybody shoots at you, I hope they are as good a shot as you.” Oswald replied, “You’re being melodramatic. Nobody’s going to shoot at me.” Moments later, Ruby drew his gun and fired.

Leavelle on the conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s assassination: “Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy, and had I gone to trial with it, I had enough evidence that I could prove to anybody’s satisfaction that he was the lone shooter. But with so many people making up stories about it, it was useless to try to explain it, so we didn’t go into it. But if I had been able to go to trial, I could have proved it beyond anybody’s doubt that he was the only one involved.” —From an interview with Veterans History Project

What people said about him: “Jim Leavelle was famous because of this event. But what really set him apart was his dedication to the Country and to the police profession. Jim was also a Pearl Harbor survivor. He and those of his generation will be truly missed.” —T. Crawford, retired lieutenant with the Dallas Police Department

“Jim Leavelle was absolutely convinced Lee Oswald killed JFK and Officer J.D. Tippit. Told Lee’s wife Marina to knock off her conspiracy talk. Tried to save Lee by pulling him away from Jack Ruby but Lee was shot point blank. And so much more. 99 ain’t bad!” —Larry Sabato, author of “The Kennedy Half Century”

“Met Jim Leavelle many times; always made sure not to pester him about That Day or That Picture, which hangs in my house – the original front page, framed. Mr. Leavelle turned 99 Friday. And now he’s gone. A remarkable life long before Nov. 24, 1963.” —Dallas News reporter Robert Wilonsky

Full obituary: Dallas Morning News

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