"The art of the police consists of not seeing what there is no use seeing."
Like an ambush in time of war, a political assassination depends on the nature of the terrain and the competence of the men who occupy it. The Committee had the means to recruit a team of high-qualified men, but the choice of a terrain depended on the enemy.
The spring of 1963 was filled with meetings at which nothing was decided. Several contingency plans were prepared. One consisted of attacking the President in his car on a Virginia highway. Another was to shoot him in Chicago. There was also a suggestion for blowing up the President's Boeing, Air Force One. These plans were rejected, for they required accomplices among the President's staff. It was too risky. They had to be sure of killing Kennedy. On Thursday, June 6, there was news. The President would meet his assassins on their own territory, the state of Texas.(1) The Committee, however, awaited confirmation of the Texas trip, and the final decision was not made until July. Plans got underway in mid-September.(2) It was a complicated plan with many separate parts, but it had one major advantage: the cooperation of the local police.
Well before the assassination, Max Lerner had written:
"In addition to its slums every city has its vice area and its crime problem. Whenever some vice inquiry has caught national attention or a newspaper puts on pressure or a city reform administration gets to power, the police force develops a spurt of energy. At such times, there are 'round-ups' of petty criminals, prostitutes, or even the usual lodging-house population, and sometimes the more scabrous criminals also are kept moving and forced to seek other hunting grounds. But reform administrations are short-lived, and the ties between vice and politics, and between 'rackets' and the respectable business elements of the city, are too close to be easily broken. In many cities the dynasty of political bosses started with the saloonkeeper who knew the weaknesses and tragedies of the slum people and built his political empire on the exchange of loyalty for favors. At a later stage in the dynasty, the boss may have become a contractor, dealing by a Providential coincidence with the very materials the city needed for its public works. There is scarcely a big American city whose administration is not at least marginally involved in this trinity of crime, political corruption, and business favors."(3)
Colonel Kane, chief of the Baltimore police when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, was in the pay of the assassins. At Phenix City, Alabama, in 1954, a warrant was issued for the arrest of former District Attorney Silas Garrett, accused of murdering Albert Patterson, who had just been elected to succeed him. In 1958, Albert Patterson's son John was elected Governor of Alabama (with the support of Robert Shelton, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan), but not before the Mayor of Phenix City had been arrested and the municipal police force stripped of its powers.
In Texas, similar cases occurred every day, but the Grand Jury inquests never revealed anything. Nonetheless, several officials in Jefferson County, Beaumont and Port Arthur were indicted in 1962. County Sheriff Charles Meyer admitted receiving $85,581 in campaign contributions, although no one had dared run against him. The Chief of Police of Port Arthur had received $65,000 for the same reason, although he was appointed rather than elected to office. Beaumont Police Chief J. H. Mulligan, whose official salary was $735 a month, had $40,000 in the bank and owned $73,000 worth of property. District Attorney Ramie Griffin charged between $5,000 and $10,000 to fix a relatively unimportant case. At that time, the municipal budget of Beaumont showed a $1,475,000 deficit.
Dallas ("Big D" to its residents) was in an even worse situation. The city had grown rapidly: from 42.3 square miles in 1942 to 288 in 1963. In 1940, it had placed 31st among American cities. By 1963, it had climbed to 13th place. Its leaders were acutely conscious of the need to protect their city's interests. Dallas was an orderly town. The Crime Confederation, which prospered in other cities, had never succeeded in implanting itself openly in Dallas. Aaron Kohn, who came to New Orleans in 1963 to head the Metropolitan Crime Commission, was puzzled at first. In Chicago, where he came from, there were two kinds of people: those who were honest, and those who were not. In Texas and Louisiana, there was apparently no distinction between the two.
Dallas was careful about appearances. It was a clean town. There was no more gambling, murder, rackets, or prostitution than in any other American city of comparable size. Dallas was too wealthy for such common vices. Organized crime was overpowered in Dallas. "The most virtuous and best-governed city in the United States" had been ruled since 1937 by a Hanseatic oligarchy dominated by seven key leaders. Below them were sixty "level leaders," the Citizens' Council and the Citizens' Charter Association (its political arm). These bodies were consulted and kept informed, but they didn't know everything, and only the Seven had the power to make decisions.
Nothing, with the exception of a natural calamity, could happen in Dallas without the approval of this Holy Synod, which controlled all elective and appointive offices. This included the police. Citing the lawyers for the Warren Commission, Manchester has written (but without expanding on the idea), "If we write what we really think (of the Dallas police), nobody will believe anything else we say."
Despite the opulence of its inhabitants, the Dallas municipal budget was very small -- only half that of Boston. City officials were therefore dependent on the incentives awarded for their obedience and their silence. The Dallas police were paid by the city leaders to carry out their orders, and that covered a lot of territory. The District Attorney's office and the municipal judges were equally corrupt. Considering the importance of the issues at stake, these men were fairly inexpensive. They were paid by the year, with occasional bonuses for good behavior. Sergeants, patrolmen, city clerks and new arrivals were added to the payroll only after a probationary period. If they were unable to adjust to the situation, they were obliged to seek employment elsewhere. There is nothing worse for a cop than to be quarantined by his fellow policemen.
Every one of the Dallas police officials -- Chief Curry, Assistant Chief Charles Batchelor and Deputy Chief N. T. Fisher, J. W. Fritz; Chief of the Homicide and Robbery Bureau, Captain W. P. Gannaway of the Special Division, Captain P. W. Lawrence of the Traffic Division, Captain Glen D. King, Curry's administrative assistant, Chief Investigator Lieutenant J. C. Day of the Identification Bureau, Lieutenant Wells of Homicide, Lieutenant Revill, Inspector Sawyer, and 15 others -- was on the special payroll. The Committee had nothing to fear. The policemen in the lower grades either received bonuses or were afraid. But they kept their mouths shut.
For his good work on November 22, the Citizens' Council voted a motion of confidence in Police Chief Curry. Curry, a great admirer of J. Edgar Hoover, whom he resembles somewhat, has since resigned from the police force for "medical reasons." Apparently he has no financial worries.
Curry and his deputies were accustomed to covering minor offenses, but the assassination of a President was in a class by itself. The plan didn't shock them. The rewards were especially attractive, and so many of their superiors were involved that they had little to fear. But their subordinates presented a problem. Many Dallas policemen were admirers of Kennedy. Many others were cowards. The plot did not extend beyond the official hierarchy. The rank of a Dallas policeman was in direct proportion to his degree of corruption.
Several policemen who belonged to the Minutemen were in charge of coordinating the activities of the police and the Committee. In addition to this internal surveillance, those policemen whom Curry and the Minutemen considered unreliable were carefully removed from the scene. The Dallas police force numbers 1,175 men. On November 22, 400 of them were assigned to Love Field, 200 to the Trade Mart, and the rest were scattered along the parade route between the airport and the end of Main Street.(4)
It may be assumed that all of the Dallas police realized afterwards what had happened. Few protested, but a handful muttered their disapproval. Three of them were murdered, and the others were obliged to flee from Dallas.(5) The Warren Commission even refused to hear their testimony.
The fact that Curry couldn't count on all of his men complicated matters. The secrecy imposed by the Committee resulted in a certain number of misunderstandings and conflicting testimony by the policemen assigned to the Texas School Book Depository, police headquarters, the railroad overpass, and the Texas Theatre. Like all military organizations, a police department has certain standard operating procedures,(6) and even the Dallas police force has a semblance of administrative organization. As a result, there were a few slip-ups which the Warren Commission was obliged to gloss over. In the minutes following the assassination, several men, including, it would seem, two of the gunmen and a radio operator, were arrested.
The Sheriff of Dallas County, J. E. Decker, was another problem. Neither he nor his principal lieutenants, Eugene Boone, Roger Craig, and Luke Mooney, were considered reliable by Curry and the Committee. It was not that the Sheriff was any less corrupt than the police. But, like Wyatt Earp, he was a loner.
On November 22 the lead car in the Presidential motorcade was driven by Curry. Sheriff Decker, Forrest Sorrels, chief of the Dallas Secret Service, and Winston G. Lawson, the Secret Service advance man from Washington,(7) were assigned to ride in it. At least two of these men could be dangerous. To minimize the risk of a chance regard upwards, the car used was a closed sedan.
The lead car in a parade is generally a convertible, so as to give its occupants the widest possible view. This was the rule even at Dallas, where open cars were always used in good weather. November 22 was a beautiful day, and the bubble top was removed from the President's convertible.
Forrest Sorrels told the Warren Commission that he was unable to get a good view from the car. As for Lawson, he declared that he saw nothing. Was Curry also instructed to distract the other occupants of the car? Sorrels recalled after the assassination that he had never seen the Chief so nervous and talkative. Sheriff Decker realized that the shots came from the direction of the parking lot, and he declared afterwards that he had radioed his men to close in on the railroad yard. But on Curry's orders the police radio was temporarily out of commission.(8)
The Warren Commission refused to hear the testimony of Sheriff Decker's deputies. The plot died in the silence in which it was born.
There was one leak. Rose Cheramie, whom Ruby dispatched to Miami on November 18, was the victim of an automobile accident near Eunice, Louisiana. She was taken to East Louisiana Hospital in Jackson. On November 19, as she was coming out of a coma, she revealed that the President was to be assassinated three days later. She repeated her story on November 20, but the doctors concluded that she was hysterical and put her under sedation. She recovered and returned to Texas, where she was killed in a hit-and-run accident in a Dallas suburb.
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1. On June 5, at the Hotel Cortez in El Paso, President Kennedy informed Governor Connally that he would make an official trip to Texas before the end of the year. The following day, several influential Texans were advised.
2. Information about the President's trip to Dallas appeared in Texas newspapers for the first time on September 13, but his visit was not officially announced by the Dallas Morning News until September 26. The Committee, however, wasn't relying on the newspapers. It knew for certain on Monday, September 16 that the President was coming to Dallas.
3. America as a Civilization, p. 168.
4. And not 365 and 60, respectively, as Manchester writes.
5. See the evidence produced by Mark Lane and District Attorney James Garrison.
6. Curry had several meetings with the organizers of the
ambush. A dozen reliable policemen both in and out of uniform were responsible
for the security of the assassins themselves. They were supposed to keep the
crowd out of Dealey Plaza and watch for journalists and suspicious individuals
(a news photographer was asked to leave the railroad overpass). It was also
decided that no clear instructions would be issued as to who was allowed into
the railroad yard, Dealey Plaza, and the neighboring buildings. They had to
make sure that an uninformed and over- zealous policemen didn't arrest or
shoot one of the assassins.
The reliable policemen facing the gunmen later declared that they had been
instructed by Captain Lawrence to watch only the traffic and any "unusual
movements" in the crowd. They claimed they had never even glanced at the
The gunmens' escape was even simpler. They were evacuated by the police, in
The reliable policemen facing the gunmen later declared that they had been instructed by Captain Lawrence to watch only the traffic and any "unusual movements" in the crowd. They claimed they had never even glanced at the buildings.
The gunmens' escape was even simpler. They were evacuated by the police, in official cars.
7. Lawson's name appears 15 times in Death of a President, but Manchester apparently didn't consider it worthwhile interviewing him. His time was probably taken up by interviews with Harry Martin, a Houston caterer, and Peter Saccu, chief caterer of a Forth Worth hotel.
8. Manchester dismisses this incident as a stuck microphone button.
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