'I felt meek and almost humble'
Hugh Aynesworth, a reporter for The Dallas Morning News on Nov. 22, 1963, was not assigned to cover Kennedy that day. But in a strange twist of fate, he ended up being a key figure in The News' assassination coverage. Aynesworth was in Dealey Plaza when JFK was shot, in Oak Cliff when Lee Harvey Oswald was captured and in the basement of Dallas Police headquarters when Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby.
Thursday, Nov. 21, 1963, I was assigned to find out who was passing out anti-Kennedy pamphlets in East Dallas.
We all felt anticipation about the President's forthcoming visit; not that we ever dreamed anything of the magnitude that did happen would or even could occur, but we felt that some radical anti-Kennedy citizens might cause embarrassment --- like the Adlai Stevenson incident of the previous month. (Editor's note: Stevenson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was hit on the head with a sign by a demonstrator.)
DMN file photo
Photographer John Flynn and I drove out to East Dallas to the home of a doctor, where we saw a pink pamphlet with huge letters "WANTED FOR TREASON" at the top. Beneath this was two pictures of Kennedy --- similar to those on the "wanted" posters tacked up in the post offices throughout the nation.
Beneath the pictures were a set of "charges" that Kennedy was blamed for, "softness of Communism," "lies to the American people," and even criticism of his personal life in a bold, nasty wording.
Flynn and I searched the streets for other copies to determine how widespread the scatterings were.
The doctor's wife who had called me said her son --- a newspaper carrierboy --- had found it along his route and had seen several others.
About mid-afternoon we returned to the office, checked with the Dallas Police Department and found that several others --- in pinks, greens, blues and yellows, but all bearing the same fanatic message --- had been found scattered throughout the city, probably dropped from moving automobiles.
I telephoned a Mr. Charley Brown of the FBI and told him that we had several (three or four in possession) and told him that we were trying to locate who printed the filth.
Later, after several phone calls, I talked with a Mr. Bob Joiner in Grand Prairie, who told me, "How'd you like them? They really said it, didn't they?" I had left him with the mistaken conception that I thought the leaflets were really something good. I knew if I criticized them, I'd find out nothing further.
Joiner told me that "one of our groups" printed them. He didn't tell me the name, but we knew a couple of printers who had been associated with Joiner's "hate Kennedy" doings in the past.
Joiner also told me of "The Minutemen" organization, which, he said, "is ready to take over at any time."
"If you write this, I'll deny it," he said, "but we've got 25,000 men ready to go."
I believed at the time that Joiner actually didn't know who printed the pamphlets, but was simply taking "credit" since it appeared I liked them. Further investigation revealed nothing much either way, for Joiner was never as talkative again.
I asked him if his group --- he had been dressed in the "Uncle Sam" suit in the midst of the Stevenson incident --- planned to demonstrate for the President's visit.
He told me he had several people with him who would be at the Dallas Trade Mart in some sort of uniform with tape over their mouths.
"We're putting tape over our mouths so that the police cannot arrest us," he explained. "We've been studying the law and as long as we don't insult him, we're alright. And they can't say we insulted him if our mouths were taped, can they?"
I told Mr. Joiner "good luck" and hung up. My next call was to the City Police and then the FBI, informing them of what to expect the following day. I hoped they could halt anything really embarrassing before it got started if they knew exactly who to watch.
However, I felt sure Mr. Joiner's name would be on the Secret Service's "watch" list anyway because of his past escapades.
I told the FBI the name of the man I figured printed the pamphlets.
The Dallas News chose not to mention what the picketers planned for the Kennedy visit.
"The less said about it, the better," said City Editor John King. "Maybe we can keep some of these kooks away by ignoring it." I agreed and wrote a two-paragraph insert on the leaflets to be placed in the midst of the day.s running lead story about the President's arrival.
I feel sure few people paid much attention to it, but I felt at the time there was reason for danger --- not death, but perhaps something far more embarrassing to Dallas and to Mr. Kennedy than the prior incidents.
When I went home that night, my wife asked me if I was going to watch the parade the following day. I told her "no," that I wasn't Kennedy man and that it didn't interest me as much.
The next morning, Nov. 22, it was a rainy, drippy day, not entirely overcast, but the threat of an all-day drizzle was evident.
I left home and again my wife asked, "Are you going to watch the President?"
I repeated "no" and actually didn't plan to be in the crowd only a few yards away when the assassin's bullets weaved their way into all our lives.
Upon arriving at the office, I looked at the assignment sheet. I had told my wife I would not be assigned to the President's doings. Sure enough, we were covering it from every angle imaginable, but I wasn't one of the score that was to take part.
I felt a bit left out, to be perfectly frank. Everyone else was buzzing around, talking and chattering, getting ready to converge on the Trade Mart for the long-awaited luncheon session. Radios throughout the building kept track of the President's doings in Fort Worth.
Somebody asked me to sit on the city desk while they went out to eat at the Trade Mart. I recall thinking, "The hell with it. If I am not good enough to write something about all this, I'll just go look at the crowds or walk uptown. No sitting on the desk answering the phone for me."
So I decided to have a cup of coffee in the cafeteria and get on out of the building before somebody "told" me to man that desk.
I sat in the cafeteria with James Hood, an advertising man, and Bob Gooding, a WFAA-TV newscaster. This was about 11 a.m.
A fellow waving his arms and talking loudly sat down two tables away, got up and ordered breakfast and returned to the table.
I noted who the man was and said to Hood and Gooding, "There's Jack Ruby. I guess he's up here to get his name in Tony Zoppi's column."
This was the first of several times I could have reached out and grabbed the man who later was to become one of the most controversial figures in American history. If I had grabbed him hard enough, history certainly would have been different.
Ruby was explaining something to two men at his table. He was loud, as usual, and greatly excited at the time. He was talking, also to Mr. Moreno, the cafeteria manager, whom I found out later had been an acquaintance of his for several years.
I left the cafeteria about 11:30 and started uptown. I rode the Shopper's Special, a bus that costs but a nickel and loops through the downtown area. The crowds already were lining up three and four deep as the bus made its way along Main Street.
Five minutes later I was getting off the bus near Main and Akard streets. Police were trying to get traffic moving on along and crowds were getting thicker.
I picked out a place and inched my way to the forefront around the Elko Camera store there and thought I'd wait for the parade. A fellow stood next to me with a transistor radio and I found out that the Presidential party was slightly behind schedule.
I don't recall what time it was, but it seemed that it must've been about noon --- shortly before. I thought I didn't feel like standing 30 or 40 minutes more just to see the parade, so I just began walking toward the Harwood corner, where I knew the President would turn onto Main for the glorious sweep through downtown Dallas.
Jack Beers / DMN
Jack Ruby lunges toward Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of Dallas police headquarters.
Another 5 or 10 minutes and I was at Harwood and Main. I walked up to speak to Joe Laird, one of our photographers, and said howdy to a Times-Herald reporter. All of a sudden a policeman was shoving me back into the crowd. "You don't have a press badge. Get back there," he said.
There were screaming mobs by this time. The intersection was nearly blocked and the closest I could get to the actual parade route was five or six rows deep.
"To hell with it again," I thought and started walking back down Main to return to The Dallas News office. By now it was probably 12:10 to 12:20 and as I approached the courthouse area, I greeted some News workers and some lawyers. I thought as long as I was this close I might as well just stand there another 10 minutes and see Kennedy and Co. I stopped at the corner of Houston and Main.
As I looked toward the Texas School Book Depository building --- never dreaming that this would become a legend, only interested in the Hertz clock it held high atop its roof---I spotted a man, I thought, named Maurice Harrell, an assistant district attorney.
I thought I'd walk over and say hello. He was standing out from the crowd at Elm and Houston. By the time I got there, he was gone, moved to another vantage point.
Harrell told me later he was standing a block away at the time and that it probably wasn't him I saw.
So, by at least a dozen strange quirks of fate, I found myself only a stone's throw from where a crazed gunman fired three shots really heard 'round the world.'
Several people had radios and were listening of the ride down through Dallas. It sounded like something to be proud of. I, being easily touched, recall thinking how wonderful the reception was, how fired up the people around me were just to view the President.
A huge Negro woman in a pink dress was all eyes as the first car of the caravan came around the corner. Her screech of "Here they is" prompted a scramble for position --- though the crowds here were sparse compared to those farther uptown or even a block away at Main and Houston streets.
I stretched to look for Bob Baskin, The News' Washington bureau chief, whom I knew was in one of the pool cars. I knew several other reporters were in the parade and I wondered where they were in the parade'."How close to the President?'."
I recall a woman to my left who cried, "Isn't she beautiful!" as she got a glimpse of Jackie Kennedy.
A murmur or voices agreed and said other complimentary things about the First Lady, about her "beautiful" dress, her "radiance," and her smile.
Never did I glance toward the assassin's perch, for I was quite touched by the tremendous buzz of affection and excitement that permeated the air.
I felt meek and almost humble for the moment as if living a special moment in history. I had no idea how true this was.
A motorcycle officer rode by and he strained to look through the crowd as the crowd strained to see past him.
I recall thinking something --- a detached thought, I'll admit --- about how nice the day had become. Only and hour or less before the glum skies had opened wide, the sun had crept through and it had turned into a soft, wispy type of day.
The kind poets depict&and assassins spit forth their vile epitaths of hatred.
Then came the first shot. I looked instinctively at one of the motorcycles to see if it was an exhaust. A woman near screamed. I saw a face look into mine briefly with a lost look, much as mine must have been.
Then another shot. This was a shot I knew. I recall darting my eyes to the President's open limousine, now slipping down Elm St. toward the viaduct.
The president jerked his head. I could not tell if he were looking to see what the noise was, but I seem to recall thinking he was only jerking his head to wave at the people on the other side of the grassy slope. His hair seemed to jump up. Later I understood why.
Some of the vehicles in the caravan seemed to come to almost a complete stop. Others crept along. I could not tell who was in charge.
Then a third shot, clearer now, for I somehow almost expected it.
"He's up there," shouted a sickly white-faced woman as she pointed to the overpass.
"Over there," sang out another, pointing to the grassy knoll that lines the sides of the parade route.
"Oh, my God, somebody's been shot," cried another, tossing a small 1-year-old to the street and making a hasty attempt to cover the child's body with her own.
I found tears in my own eyes, perhaps from excitement --- certainly not from understanding for I still didn't know which way to run, or even, if I should run.
The caravan roared into action and sped off down and out of sight, en route to Parkland Hospital. One car didn't move so fast and a bus moved swiftly around it to allow its riders to stay close to the cars ahead.
Somebody near me --- I must have been attached to the spot --- lost his or her lunch. I couldn't determine who because when I looked I saw a man wiping off a woman and vice versa.
It seems now that the natural thing would have been to slowly scan all high spots for somebody running away. I don't recall where all I looked. I saw many reactions that only come back to me in snatches and people crying, holding to each other in disbelief, police officers running back and forth, shouting commands that nobody seem to hear.
I remember thinking once that I should call the office, but I knew somebody already knew of it. My movements were similar to those of an automaton.
Within seconds --- it must have been hours in my thoughts --- it was pretty well determined that the man who did the shooting was inside the Depository building.
Sometime in the ensuing scramble I saw two or three men run as if trying to escape from the scene. They were grabbed. Uniformed officers took one or two of them and plainclothesmen the other.
I thought, "Maybe that's him" as they pulled a white-thatched man in his 60s down the street toward the sheriff's office. As I was following him, another man was grabbed who had made a fast move.
I didn't know where to go, to the Depository building, where officers were standing around in a semi-cordon or to the police station, where I thought one of the accomplices might be held.
I tried to get near the Depository building and a police officer stopped me. I turned and ran following another citizen who was grabbed.
As I look back I must have looked like a jumping jack, back and forth and back and forth, etc., but I feel sure nobody was watching me.
Two or three men in suits --- Secret Service, I thought --- rushed a man along the street and over toward Commerce. I followed. Traffic was beginning to tie up in knots. I stopped a man and asked him to run me toward the police station back uptown.
I ran into Homicide, where I figured the man would be brought. A man there looked at me like I was crazy when I asked where the suspect was. He left the office and walked down to the Press Room where several people were listening to instructions on the police radio band.
Police sirens kept moving back down toward the Depository.
I felt that I had guessed wrong, or at least, that the big man -- the one who had shot --- must still be inside the building.
My first impulse was to run like mad for the Depository building and maybe still get in on the chase. I will call the office first, I thought rather foolishly, to make sure they know what's happened.
I didn't know for sure myself.
Assistant City Editor Harvey Bogen answered the phone and I recalled later that he was not too excited. I immediately gained an added bit of admiration for Harvey, for I was jabbering like an idiot.
He said simply, "The President's been shot. They've got the man trapped in the&." "I know," I snapped, "I was there. I'm heading back there now."
Two television newsmen offered me a ride back to the site.
As I arrived to the front of the Depository, I ran into Jim Ewell, our daytime police reporter. I told him some of what I had seen and asked him who certain officers were that we saw around the front of the building.
He pointed out certain individuals, including the motorcycle officer who had been one of the first men into the building. I later learned that this same man had encountered Lee Harvey Oswald as the accused assassin was drinking a soft drink en route to his freedom.
As I whipped around talking to police officers and listening to the many police radios, I suddenly heard a voice on the radio, "This is a citizen. There's a police officer shot over here and I think he's dead."
The dispatcher asked an address and asked the voice to clarify. I got the address -- not far off E. Jefferson Avenue in Oak Cliff.
I found Ewell and told him. We held a split-second conference and decided between us that the man who killed the cop was more than likely an accomplice of the one we thought was trapped somewhere in the musty, dark confines of the book storehouse.
"I'm going over there, if I can find a way," I told Ewell. "I'll stay here. This might be it," Jim said to me.
I ran next to Vic Robertson and another television newsman, and told them of the cop shooting. We jumped into a mobile unit and sped toward the Oak Cliff address.
First stop was a furniture store---a shaggy looking used furniture place where the dust was thick and the floor and ceiling sagged. Chairs and tables, sofas and more chairs were stacked up high, many of them covered with more dust than paint.
Four or five policemen were inside. I jumped from the mobile unit and ran directly inside, thinking that the suspect was there and hoping to see the actual capture; maybe even be there when he confessed who his accomplice was that had shot the President. By this time the news desk at WFAA-TV had told us that the President was believed dead and that Connally was bad off.
I sneaked on through the furniture store --- right behind a tall, tough looking man with his gun in his hand. He turned once as I partially stumbled and I saw it was Bill Alexander, an assistant district attorney who later would play a vital part in the Jack Ruby trial.
But this was so very much in the future. I wouldn't have believed it then.
I do not know which of the officers were present because I was unfamiliar with most of them, though I had worked the "police beat" on occasion.
Soon I sneaked into a back room --- totally unaware at the moment that I was the only one that wasn't armed. Something creaked from a piled up mass of furniture and a piece of some sort tumbled off its perch and rattled to the floor.
I remember crying out "oh" or something&and suddenly I was aware that I had better not stalk the killer without a gun.
I left the house. The search within seconds shifted to the old house next door, also used as a storeroom for used junk.
A quick search through here and the officers --- now a score of police cars was at the scene, along with FBI personnel and probably some Secret Service people ---began to pull out.
Next stop --- I had regained my ride with the TV boys --- was the public library eight or 10 blocks away. Everybody was marched out with his hands up before it was determined that the boy who had run in so breathlessly was only carrying the message about the President's demise.
Though I didn.t know it, at the corner by the library, a bus driver by the name of Cecil McWatters sat waiting for a red light. He wondered what all the fuss was all about.
Less than an hour ago, McWatters had run face-to-face with Oswald as the self-styled Marxist was running from the Depository building --- but he wasn't to realize that for about 10 more hours---so he wondered, "What in hell's going on at the library?"
That was what the cabbies call a "water haul," nothing.
Then the sirens led the way to the Texas Theater, not too many blocks up Jefferson Street.
I ran up to the ticket window and saw a near hysterical woman named Julie Postal, who kept shouting, "He's in there, he's in there."
"Who" I asked, like the stupidest owl on record.
For the first time in my life since the early teens when it was rare sport, I walked on through the door and into the theater without paying.
Jim Ewell had run inside, too. He had given up on the search at the Depository building and had ridden with some police officers to the Texas Theater.
Jim ran up in the balcony, thinking probably that a culprit would seek the darkest confines of the theater --- usually reserved for those who love, not those who hate.
I ran past the concession stand --- now unmanned --- and into the bottom rear of the theater. Somebody ran by me. I thought I should have tripped him or something, but instantly I was glad I hadn't for it turned out to be a plainclothes cop.
Somebody turned on the lights --- not all of them, but part of them. It seems that the show kept right on, a nerve-racking battle picture "War is Hell."
Four or five men were working their way up from the front of the theater, forcing patrons to stand up and be searched. At the time it seemed there was a dozen people in the whole downstairs area.
Some of the men in uniform, some were not.
One youngster jumped up and ran toward the officers.
My immediate reaction: "That's the man. Why don't they shoot him? He's rushing the cop!"
Lucky they didn't for the boy turned out to be a high school student, a 19-year-old who was merely fingering Oswald to the searchers.
Maybe it took one minute for the officers to find Oswald. I was behind him, so I couldn't see his face and I was slightly too far to hear what he said, but I watched his actions.
As N.M. McDonald came up on him, Oswald raised up, not too fast but deliberate, and I could hear something like, "Well, this is it."
"I've got him," McDonald cried out.
As Oswald stunned McDonald with a loud bolt to the head, another officer grabbed Oswald in a chokehold and pulled him back over the seat.
I could not see what Oswald did but suddenly McDonald made a tremendous effort as the fighting gained three more officers --- maybe four --- and some tumbling about.
I heard at least three grunts --- all at different tones from different participants.
Five or six men straightened Oswald up --- he put up a hell of a fight considering the odds --- and another man ran up and barked orders: "Get him out of here as fast as you can!"
This man was the highest-ranking officer of the bunch; that was apparent. Five men formed a wedge and took Oswald out the west aisle and into the lobby, then on out front to the street and quickly into a waiting police car (unmarked).
I ran out alongside them, tried to talk to Oswald but one of the police officers kept waving a white hat over Oswald's face to shield him, I guess, from cameramen, which they encountered within seconds outside.
"I protest this police brutality," I heard Oswald shout. A hand reached out and covered his mouth. He said nothing else audible during the move into the automobile.
They put him into the back seat middle. Three officers were in front and one on either side of him in the back seat.
As the auto sped out toward the police station, Jim Ewell scratched his head and said, "Why that's the car I came over here in --- with Jerry Hill --- I don't know why I didn't ride back with them. I just didn't think."
Jack Beers, News photographer who two days later was to record one of the greatest actions photos of all time (Jack Ruby lunging forward to kill Oswald), was annoyed with me as they shoved Oswald into the car. He wanted to shoot pictures, and I was trying to talk to Oswald and listen for anything he might say.
He didn't get much of a picture as a result, and I didn't hear much either.
A crowd of 500 or more people, held at bay by uniformed officers, chanted "Kill the son of a bitch, kill the son of a bitch!"
My thoughts were that I bet somebody might have right then had not the police work moved along so smoothly.
As Oswald and his five riding mates pulled away, I ran back toward the door of the Texas Theater, where the man I had seen first hop on the suspect was wiping his brow, straightening his clothes and breathing heavily.
I found his name on his badge, N.M. McDonald.
"Did he give you any trouble?" I asked. "Not much, we took care of him pretty well," McDonald replied.
What did he say to you as you grabbed him?
"He said, 'This is it'."
"But right after that what did he say?"
"He said something about wanting an attorney; that he knew what his rights were or something like that," McDonald said.
What kind of gun was that&what caliber?
"I don't know. I never got to see it," McDonald snapped.
I walked from the front of the theater, to the west corner of the block and on back to the alley behind the theater, where McDonald had his police unit parked.
Later when I heard the story that Oswald had raised his gun to McDonald's head and fired, only to have the thing misfire, I recalled that McDonald --- only two or three minutes after the capture --- had never mentioned this aspect.
I knew, too, that had the gun been that high in the air I could have seen it from my vantage point.
Other officers have told me since that the gun did snap, but that it was never higher than waist high.
I rode back to the office with a radio newsman and briefed the desk on what had taken place and what I had seen. Ewell went back to the station and was trying to find out the suspect's address so we could get in his home to see what of interest might be found there.
The first address we got was on old one --- where Oswald and his wife and small child lived more than a year before, shortly after their return from Russia. That was on Elsbeth Street.
Two little old ladies lived there when I went scrambling up to the door to ask if Lee Harvey Oswald lived here. They seemed afraid. I imagine that my face must have shown some of the incredulous things I had seen that day. I explained my purpose there.
They invited me in to use the phone and I called the office and then Ewell again at City Hall. No later address.
"I'll bet he was that one with the wife that didn't speak English and used to hang clothes out there," said one of the women, pointing toward the rear of house.
I thanked them and ran like mad toward the other apartment.
"Don't answer it," I heard a voice rasp in reply to the hurried knock.
I thought, "Boy, you've got it. Some of his accomplices are there!"
I kept knocking and I heard argument in undertones in the small side street apartment. Finally, a half-clad woman, obviously drunken, for we could smell the wine, peered out.
"What do you want?" she asked. "C'mer," shouted the male voice as he fell over a table, chair or something getting up.
I asked for Lee Harvey Oswald, if they knew him, if he lived here. A grunt or two and the door slammed.
I felt that with millions of people wanting to know who, what, how and why about this murderer, here were two people so oblivious to everything that they wanted only to be back in each other's arms. No accomplices these!
I combed every house within two blocks --- still hoping I could get there first to ransack what must have been a madman's room.
Finally two hours and two tired feet later I returned to The News office. Ewell came up with another address, 1026 N. Beckley.
John Flynn, the photographer, and I rushed out there and arrived at approximately the same time as six or seven other newsmen. Officers, FBI and city detectives, were still there.
We stood around five minutes while Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Johnson, the owners, and Mrs. Earline Roberts, the housekeeper, explained that yes, a Mr. O.L. Lee had roomed here and he appeared to be Lee Harvey Oswald.
We then talked with all those concerned and found that Oswald had moved in late one afternoon several weeks before, had been an irate TV-watcher (often argued with other roomers as to which channel to watch), had paid his $8 a week like clockwork and liked to make sandwiches in his small, cubicle-like room --- plain but clean.
Mrs. Roberts recalled the now star-boarder running in about 1 p.m. as she sat watching the TV coverage of the assassination.
"Boy you're in a hurry," she said. He hasn't replied yet. She told us Oswald (Mr. Lee as she knew him) had hesitated at the front of the house a moment, then started running down Beckley Street south.
"Oh yes," she said as an afterthought, "he changed his jacket."
The police officers had removed everything from the room except a box of matches, a Mexican ashtray and some banana peelings.
We left and again went to the office.
Late in the evening --- after I had written everything I could think of for the early editions --- City Editor John King came over to me with the "purple pill," an assignment to go talk with Mrs. Tippit.
Flynn and I took off again together. I made a mistake reading the Mapsco and we ended up in Garland on a street by the same name of the one the Tippits lived on.
Finally we arrived. King swore later we only went to Garland because we didn't want to talk to Mrs. Tippit at such a moment of sorrow. That wasn't entirely the truth.
Anyway, she was under heavy sedation and couldn't see anyone. We visited with a close friend, four doors away and found out enough of Tippit's background to write a story about his deeds as a policeman for the next morning's final edition.
An old friend of mine, a Tulsa Tribune reporter, dropped by my desk at about midnight. My wife Paula was sitting there eating a sandwich with me.
We decided to eat something more substantial, since we hadn't stopped during the day, so we went out to Lucas B&B and ate an early breakfast or a late dinner. After that the three of us drove the same parade route that President Kennedy had driven about 13 hours previous.
We looked for other spots that could have proven troublesome had an assassin been intent enough to cover them.
It was somewhat of a weird ride, three shocked people, and aura of unbelievability, a night to remember.
At 3 a.m., we drove by General Walker's rented house on Turtle Creek Dr., and found many lights lit. We didn't know if he was up or if he had brightened the surroundings because of expected trouble. Later I found he was in Louisiana at the time.
Saturday I was off duty, but I came down to the office for several hours anyway, to try to be of some service. I actually was afraid I would miss something.
I stopped by the police station also for a length of time.
I frankly do not remember (four months later as I write this) who I saw, what I said and so on. All I recall is telling Paula as we retired (early): "Don't worry, they'll move Oswald during the night. There won't be any trouble."
At around 10 a.m. we awoke and turned on the TV. I was stunned to find that Oswald was still at the City Hall.
"Get on something. We're going downtown," I shouted, running around the apartment. Then I slowed down. I thought we probably couldn't get downtown in time. It seemed that everybody was waiting for the transfer right now.
We ate some cereal, dressed and watched the "boob tube." Finally I said, "Let's go'maybe we can make it."
We drove ---looking like unshaved, unkempt beatniks --- toward City Hall and another date with fate. As we passed the Main St. entrance, we noted a small crowd. The car radio told of the armored car on the Commerce St. side.
I parked the car in front of Titche's and we walked two blocks to the Commerce St. entrance to the now famous police basement. An officer stopped my wife at the corner and would not let her accompany me.
I briefly chatted with several officers at the entrance, peered into and around the armored car and slipped into the basement area itself. Twice I had to show press identification. I moved down in back of the armored car and was edging toward the jail office when somebody yelled, "Here he comes!"
Lights went on, a murmur of anxiety covered the scene and there came Capt. Will Fritz, head of the Homicide and Burglary Division, whom I knew, out of the doors.
Behind him came three men, J.R. Leavelle, L.C. Graves and Oswald. I didn't recognize the two with Oswald, but I recognized Oswald. He still seemed arrogant.
A big man reached forward and stuck a mike close to Oswald, apparently asking him a question. Almost at the same moment another man cut before me, left to right, and moved to Oswald.
I heard a thud-like shot, a groan, many shouts of disbelief.
"The son of a bitch has been shot. Don't make a move or I'll knock you down," said one officer to my right.
The crowd moved this way and that. Officers jumped on the attacker and others pulled the wounded man into the jail office. Officers weren't letting anybody move closer --- at least for the moment.
I thought it might be five minutes before I could get in the office where Oswald was, so I slipped unnoticed out of the basement, ran around the corner and into the building from the first floor.
Once inside I ran down the stairs to the jail office, where I got close enough to see them hauling Oswald off on a stretcher. Jack Ruby was rushed by and placed in an elevator.
Hugh Aynesworth (right) interviews cab driver William Whaley, who picked up Lee Harvey Oswald after the assassination.
Several of the officers knew Ruby. At least three told me Ruby had done it, but they wondered aloud how he got in the basement.
Billy Combest, an officer who had been just to the right rear of Graves, Leavelle and Oswald, told me he saw Ruby coming forth, but couldn't move fast enough to stop him.
"I cried out, 'Jack you son of a bitch, don't' " Combest told me.
I collared a Japanese newspaperman whom I had seen standing right next to the spot form where Ruby sprang forward.
The tiny Jap newsman told me that somebody said, "Pardon me" or "Excuse me" as he as pushed aside. "Was it Jack Ruby?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said smiling, "but somebody said this."
Soon I ran into Jack Beers who said, "I think I got something. I shot right at the moment. I saw this guy moving in front of me so I just let go." Beers had more than something.
Jim Ewell was on hand within minutes and his adept knowledge of where to go and who to ask what and how soon gave us an advantage in securing most of the facts surrounding the bizarre shooting.
We telephoned at least a dozen times that day, updating our information.
Mrs. Eva Grant, Ruby's sister, showed up. They took her to the fifth floor, where she was allowed to talk to Jack. An FBI man stood alongside. Eva didn't close the door between the ante-room (right off the elevator) and three or four of us crouched to hear her ask Ruby, "Why did you do it. Why, why, why?"
An attendant with Mrs. Grant heard us outside the door and slammed it. We heard nothing more. Fifteen minutes later Mrs. Grant, very pale and ill from a recent hospitalization, came out and walked across the street to Attorney Tom Howard's office.
I followed along, as did Tony Zoppi, who knew Mrs. Grant personally.
Howard allowed Zoppi and two other people to sit in his office while he talked with Eva. I was not allowed so I thought the next best thing would be to monitor (unethical but effective) Howard's incoming phone calls of which there were numerous.
I listened to conversations between Howard and the FBI, other members of Ruby.s family and several magazines and lawyers.
Howard, later to quit as one of Ruby's lawyers in a squabble over techniques with chief counselor Melvin Belli, turned down several offers of considerable cash that day --- deals he could have made that would have netted him far more than he got out of the several weeks of work he did.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Larry Grove and I combined to dig out what was know as "The Great Escape." It was a lengthy exclusive --- printed Thursday morning the 28th --- showing how and where Oswald went in the 90 minutes or so he was free after killing the President.
This job was a toughie. I personally made at least 75 telephone calls, trying to find out which cab driver picked him up, which bus driver had ridden with him, what was said, which way did he go, etc.
We dug out Cecil McWatters, the bus driver, by chatting with a dispatcher, who seemed to think we were FBI men. He never mentioned the man.s name, because he thought we already had a report on the incident, but told us his badge number and bus he was driving.
This came after several officers in the firm, other drivers, dispatchers and service people refused to talk about the incident. "The police and FBI asked us not to talk," they explained.
Having found out the driver's number and route it was a simple matter to check when he would bring the bus into the bus barn. It was 8:20 p.m. Grove, Beers and I were waiting for him---still not knowing his name.
We had in the meantime pieced enough of the story together to make the driver believe we "knew it all" but needed filling in on the minor points.
"How do you spell your last name?" was one of the first questions. "What if he had said SMITH?" Grove shuddered.
From then on, it was concentration on the cab drive. We searched the records of the cab company for pickups made in the general area about 12:45 p.m. that day. We knew where he had gotten off McWatters' bus.
Soon we found that William Wayne Whaley, top man in point of service and an ex-Navy Cross winner over Iwo Jima, was our man.
Finding Whaley was a chore that Wednesday. We missed him at the office. His daughter had taken ill and Whaley had taken the day off. He lived in Lewisville, about 20 miles northwest of Dallas.
We hurried to Lewisville ---and missed him there. He had gone to a hospital in Denton, 17 miles further northwest. We drove there but found we didn't know his daughter's name.
By the time we found his daughter, Whaley had left by five minutes. Back to Lewisville, where we missed him by five minutes at the grocery store and less than that at home.
Then we decided to return to the cab company, in hopes that he would go back to work late that day. At. 5 p.m., six hours and more than 100 miles later, we found "Chief" Whaley sitting in front of the cab company in his Chevy.
At first he would say nothing but "no comment," but once again considerable study of known facts finally opened the door and he told us of taking Oswald from the downtown bus station to the 500 block of N. Beckley, one half mile from his small, shabby room.
Did he tip you, we asked? The fare was 95 cents and Oswald gave Whaley a dollar bill. "If you can call that a tip, yeh he did," he grunted.
We drove another quick trip over the escape route and returned to the office to try to make an early edition with the story.
These were the only fruitful results of the first week that was.