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Retired officer recalls Oswald's capture

By PHIL MAGERS

DALLAS, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- A retired Dallas policeman who helped capture Lee Harvey Oswald said Thursday the officers who disarmed the struggling man in the Texas Theatre didn't realize at the time he was a suspect in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Jerry Hill, then a young patrol sergeant, had driven across the Trinity River to the Oak Cliff section of Dallas to help in the pursuit of a gunman who had shot and killed Officer J.D. Tippit less than an hour after Kennedy was shot at 12:30 p.m. in Dealey Plaza.

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"We had a suspect that was awfully close to both incidents, the officer and the president, but at this point we were tracking the fellow that shot the officer," he said during a nostalgic visit to the cinema where Oswald was arrested 39 years ago Friday.

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Hill, now 73, said it wasn't until they later transported Oswald to the police station that they learned the former Marine was also a suspect in the assassination. As it turned out, Oswald had killed Tippit after fleeing from the Texas School Book Depository where he allegedly shot the president.

Tippit, a 10-year veteran of the Dallas police, was gunned down on an Oak Cliff street when he stopped Oswald about 1:15 p.m., according to several witnesses. The gunman then fled into a nearby business area and took refuge in the darkened theater.

A shoe store manager who had been listening to the radio bulletins saw Oswald walk by, appearing to hide from passing police cars, and then quickly sneak into the theater. Police were called.

Hill and another officer first ran to the theater balcony to turn on some lights as other officers converged on the scene. He kicked open some fire doors and another officer told the projectionist to turn on the lights.

Hill said as he ran downstairs he could hear shouting and when he entered the seating area he found officers struggling with a man near the back of the theater.

"I got in the fight and we managed to subdue the prisoner, get a gun away from him, put him on the floor and handcuff him," he said. "We got him and started out with him."

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Outside on Jefferson Boulevard they encountered an angry crowd of about 200 people.

"We probably had 200 people there and the officers turned their guns on the crowd because they were saying, 'let's get him, let's take him away from them,'" he said. "Our thoughts were we just had to risk our lives to take a gun from him to arrest him and now we're liable to have to kill somebody to keep him."

Hill said the officers who arrested Oswald didn't even know the president was dead until they reached the police station. The city was in a panic in the aftermath of Kennedy shooting and the president had died at 1 p.m. at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

Hill said he was shocked when Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald two days later in a hallway of the police station because it left too many questions unanswered. He believes Oswald was the lone assassin, discounting the conspiracy theories that persist to this day.

"We did have the evidence to back up our case," he said.

Hill doesn't think either Oswald or Ruby was capable of joining in a conspiracy.

"I think we had two nuts in town at the same time," he said. "One of them was a nobody who wanted to be a somebody and Jack Ruby was another nobody."

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The 71-year-old Texas Theatre, nearly destroyed by a five-alarm fire in 1995, is undergoing a renovation and Hill believes it's another sign that Dallas has come to recognize it must preserve a sad chapter in its history.

The multi-million dollar renovation will turn the historic cinema and its Italian Renaissance architecture into a new home for community theater and musical events. About $1.6 million in government funds has been awarded for the project and local supporters are trying to raise another $1.7 million to complete the project by next year.

The sixth floor of the old school book depository, the so-called "sniper's nest," has been turned into a county-run museum, Dealey Plaza is a National Historic Site, and city officials said this week they have more plans to preserve the assassination story.

Dallas' Old City Hall, where Oswald was jailed and later slain by Ruby, will soon be vacated when the police department moves to new quarters, and city officials plan to turn Oswald's cell and the hallway where he was killed into historic sites.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the new museum at Old City Hall, and renovated Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff would form a triangle of historic sites surrounding the Kennedy Memorial, which sits in a downtown plaza honoring the memory of the fallen president.

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