WHEN THEY KILL A PRESIDENT
Roger Craig -- © 1971
This book is dedicated to my wife Molly,
who meant it when she said "for better or worse."
Our president John Kennedy went down to Dallas town
Where the hired assassins waited and there they shot him down,
Because he dreamed of peace and plenty and he talked it 'round
His dream goes marching on.
The Dallas County Court House at 505 Main Street was indeed a unique place to come to hear what was WRONG with John F. Kennedy and his policies as President of these United States.
This building housed the elite troops of the Dallas County Sheriff's Department (of which I was one), who, with blind obedience, followed the orders of their Great White Father: Bill Decker, Sheriff of Dallas County.
From these elite troops came the most bitter verbal attacks on President Kennedy. They spoke very strongly against his policies concerning the Bay of Pigs incident and the Cuban Missile crisis. They seemed to resent very much the fact that President Kennedy was a Catholic. I do not know why this was such a critical issue with many of the deputies but they did seem to hold this against President Kennedy.
The concession stand in the lobby of the court house was the best place to get into a discussion concerning the President. The old man who ran the stand evidenced a particular hatred for President Kennedy. He seemed to go out of his way to drag anyone who came by his stand into a discussion about the President. His name is J. C. Kiser.
He was a little man with a short mustache and glasses that he wore right on the end of his nose. He was a particularly good friend of Sheriff Decker, and he held the concession in the lobby for many years. Like Decker, he was unopposed when his lease came up for renewal. It was common knowledge that Bill Decker made it possible for him to remain there as long as he wished. This sick little man not only had a deep hatred for John F. Kennedy, he also hated the black people, even those who spent their money at his stand. He would often curse them as they walked away after making a purchase from him. He flatly refused to make telephone change for them even though he would be simultaneously making change for a white person.
This little man was a typical example of the atmosphere that lingered in this building that housed law and order in Dallas County.
Many of the deputies had a dislike for the President -- some more so than others. However, there were those who would not degrade themselves by taking verbal punches at our President. One of these was Hiram Ingram. Although devoted to Bill Decker, he was also a good friend of mine. We often discussed the political debates that took place in the lobby. Hiram had a great dislike for this sick little man who seemed to lead the attack on the President. He also had little respect for the deputies, attorneys and court house employees who tolerated or even agreed with this philosophy of attacking John F. Kennedy.
Hiram Ingram was a small man -- in stature. He was always ready with a friendly smile and greeting. He began his association with the County during the Bonnie and Clyde era -- when he was an ambulance driver and inside employee at a local funeral home. In fact, Hiram prepared Bonnie and Clyde for burial after they were brought back to Dallas from the ambush in Louisiana.
Hiram and I were very close -- one of those friendships which develops when some people first meet. I had known Hiram for about four years at the time of the assassination. He was working in the Civil Division and shortly after November 22, 1963 he had a heart attack. When he returned to work Decker put him on the Bond Desk, where I would later be and work closely with Hiram. I worked the day shift one month and the evening shift the following month. Hiram worked only evenings. So every other month we worked together. This gave us time to talk and discuss the events in Dallas and even the Sheriff's Office itself. The Department was not well organized.
To clear some of the bonds and bondsmen we would have to call Decker at home -- no matter what time of the day or night -- for his approval or any decision. This applied only to certain bondsmen. Decker had his chosen few who were not questioned. Hiram was a very dependable employee and should not have had to clear the minor decisions with our Great White Father, Bill Decker.
As the months passed and Hiram and I worked together we built a mutual respect for each other. When Decker fired me on July 4, 1967 Hiram was infuriated but, like any employee of Decker's, he couldn't say anything in my defense for fear of having his employment cut short or his reputation ruined. One of Decker's favorite past times was ruining reputations.
Our friendship did not end with my termination. We continued to talk from time to time and Hiram was very helpful when Penn Jones wanted information concerning records at the Sheriff's office. However, in March of 1968 Hiram explained to me that information was getting more difficult to get for some reason. Fortunately by this time I had already supplied Penn Jones and Bill Boxley (investigator for Jim Garrison) with much information from Hiram.
About two weeks later, near the end of March 1968, I heard that Hiram had fallen at home and broken his hip and was in the hospital. I went to see my good buddy to cheer him up and received the shock of my life. Hiram was under oxygen and could not have any visitors. Three days later he was dead -- of cancer. He had been working just prior to the fall. I think that we owe a debt of gratitude to this great man who, in his own quiet way, helped us all so much.
Thus . . . we have the atmosphere that was to greet the President of the United States upon his arrival in Dallas. However, things were to get even worse before he arrived.
The battle ground had been picked and the UNwelcome mat was out for President Kennedy. Unknown to most of us, the rest of the plan was being completed. The patsy had been chosen and placed in the building across from the court house -- where he could not deny his presence after it was all over. This was done with the apparent approval and certainly with the knowledge of our co-workers, the F.B.I., since they later admitted that they knew Lee Harvey Oswald was employed at the School Book Depository Building located on the corner of Elm Street and Houston Street across from the Sheriff's Office.
The security had been arranged by the Secret Service and the Dallas Police -- our boys in blue. The final touch was put on by Sheriff James Eric (Bill) Decker. On the morning of November 22, 1963 the patrolmen in the districts which make up the Dallas County Sheriff's Patrol Division were left in the field, ignorant of what was going on in the downtown area, which was just as well. Decker was not going to LET them do anything anyway.
About 10:30 a.m. November 22, 1963, Bill Decker called into his office what I will refer to as his street people -- plain-clothes men, detectives and warrant men, myself included -- and told us that President Kennedy was coming to Dallas and that the motorcade would come down Main Street. He then advised us that we were to stand out in front of the building, 505 Main Street and represent the Sheriff's Office. We were to take no part whatsoever in the security of that motorcade. (Why, James Eric?) So . . . the stage had been set, all the pawns were in place, the security had been withdrawn from that one vulnerable location. Come John F. Kennedy, come to Elm and Houston Streets in Dallas, Texas and take your place in history!
The time was 12:15 p.m. I was standing in front of the court house at 505 Main Street. Deputy Sheriff Jim Ramsey was standing behind me. We were waiting for the President of the United States. I had a feeling of pride that I was going to be not more than four feet from the President but deep inside something kept gnawing at me. I said to Jim Ramsey, "He's late." Jim's reply stunned me. He said, "Maybe somebody will shoot the son of a bitch." Then I realized the crowd was hostile. The men about me felt that they were forced to acknowledge his presence. Although he was the President, they were making statements like, "Why does he have to come to Dallas?"
Something else was bothering me . . . being a trained officer, I always looked for anything which might be amiss about any situation with which I was confronted. Suddenly I knew what was wrong. There were no officers guarding the intersections or controlling the crowd. My mind flashed back to the meeting in Decker's office that morning, then back to the lack of security in this area.
Suddenly the motorcade approached and President Kennedy was smiling and waving and for a moment I relaxed and fell into the happy mood the President was displaying. The car turned the corner onto Houston Street. I was still looking at the rest of the people in the party. I was soon to be shocked back into reality. The President had passed and was turning west on Elm Street . . . as if there were no people, no cars, the only thing in my world at that moment was a rifle shot! I bolted toward Houston Street. I was fifteen steps from the corner -- before I reached it two more shots had been fired. Telling myself that it wasn't true and at the same time knowing that it was, I continued to run. I ran across Houston Street and beside the pond, which is on the west side of Houston. I pushed a man out of my way and he fell into the pond. I ran down the grass between Main and Elm. People were lying all over the ground. I thought, "My God, they've killed a woman and child," who were lying beside the gutter on the South side of Elm Street. I checked them and they were alright. I saw a Dallas Police Officer run up the grassy knoll and go behind the picket fence near the railroad yards. I followed and behind the fence was complete confusion and hysteria.
I began to question people when I noticed a woman in her early thirties attempting to drive out of the parking lot. She was in a brown 1962 or 1963 Chevrolet. I stopped her, identified myself and placed her under arrest. She told me that she had to leave and I said, "Lady, you're not going anywhere." I turned her over to Deputy Sheriff C. I. (Lummy) Lewis and told him the circumstances of the arrest. Officer Lewis told me that he would take her to Sheriff Decker and take care of her car.
The parking lot behind the picket fence was of little importance to most of the investigators at the scene except that the shots were thought to have come from there.
Let us examine this parking lot. It was leased by Deputy Sheriff B. D. Gossett. He in turn rented parking space by the month to the deputies who worked in the court house, except for official vehicles. I rented one of these spaces from Gossett when I was a dispatcher working days or evenings. I paid Gossett $3.00 per month and was given a key to the lot. An interesting point is that the lot had an iron bar across the only entrance and exit (which were the same). The bar had a chain and lock on it. The only people having access to it were deputies with keys. Point: how did the woman gain access and, what is more important, who was she and why did she have to leave?
This was to be the beginning of the never-ending cover up. Had I known then what I know now, I would have personally questioned the woman and impounded and searched her car. I had no way of knowing that an officer, with whom I had worked for four years, was capable of losing a thirty year old woman and a three thousand pound automobile. To this day Officer Lewis does not know who she was, where she came from or what happened to her. Strange!
Meanwhile, back at the parking lot, I continued to help the Dallas Officers restore order. When things were somewhat calmer I began to question the people who were standing at the top of the grassy knoll, asking if anyone had seen anything strange or unusual before or during the President's fatal turn onto Elm Street.
Several people indicated to me that they thought the shots came from the area of the grassy knoll or behind the picket fence. My next reliable witness came forward in the form of Mr. Arnold Rowland. Mr. Rowland and his wife were standing at the top of the grassy knoll on the north side of Elm Street. Arnold Rowland began telling me his account of what he saw before the assassination. He said approximately fifteen minutes before President Kennedy arrived he was looking around and something caught his eye. It was a white man standing by the 6th floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building in the southeast corner, holding a rifle equipped with a telescopic sight and in the southwest corner of the sixth floor was a colored male pacing back and forth. Needless to say, I was astounded by his statement. I asked Mr. Rowland why he had not reported this incident before and he told me that he thought they were secret service agents -- an obvious conclusion for a layman. Rowland continued. He told me that he looked back at the sixth floor a few minutes later and the man with the rifle was gone so he dismissed it from his mind.
I was writing all this down in my notebook and when I finished I advised Mr. and Mrs. Rowland that I would have to detain them for a statement. I had started toward the Sheriff's Office with them when lo and behold I was approached by Officer C. L. (Lummy) Lewis, who asked me "What ya got" -- a favorite expression of most investigators with Bill Decker. I explained the situation to him and told him of Rowland's account. Being the Good Samaritan he was, Officer Lewis offered to take the Rowlands off my hands and get their statements. This worked out a little better than my first arrest. The Warren Commission decided not to accept Arnold Rowland's story but at least they did not lose them. Hang in there, Lummy!
The time was approximately 12:40 p.m. I had just turned the Rowlands over to Lummy Lewis when I met E. R. (Buddy) Walthers, a small man with a very arrogant manner. He was, without a doubt, Decker's favorite pupil. He wore dark-rimmed glasses and a small-brimmed hat because effecting them meant that he would resemble Bill Decker. Walthers had worked for the Yellow Cab Company of Dallas before coming to the Sheriff's Office, about a year before I began working there. His termination from the cab company was the result of several shortages of money. He came to the Sheriff's Department as a patrolman but because of his close connection with Justice of the Peace Bill Richburg -- one of Decker's closest allies -- Buddy soon was promoted to detective. He had absolutely no ability as a law enforcement officer. However, he was fast climbing the ladder of success by lying to Decker and squealing on his fellow officers.
Walthers' ambition was to become Sheriff of Dallas County and he would do anything or anybody to reach that goal. It was very clear Buddy enjoyed more job security with Decker than anyone else did. Decker carried him for years by breaking a case for him or taking a case which had been broken by another officer and putting Walthers' name on the arrest sheet. Soon after he was promoted to detective he became intimate with such people as W. 0. Bankston, the flamboyant Oldsmobile dealer in Dallas who furnished Decker with a new Fire Engine Red Olds every year and who was arrested several times for Driving while Intoxicated but never served any jail time.
Buddy's acquaintances also included several independent oil operators throughout Texas, several anti-Castro Cubans and many underworld characters -- especially women! He was frequently crashing parties which were given by wealthy friends of Decker's -- of course while he was on duty. He often became drunk and belligerent at these parties and at one point, when asked to leave, he threatened to pull his gun on the host. This information can be verified by Billy Courson, who was Buddy's partner at that time.
Walthers hit the big time when, in 1961, two Federal Narcotics Agents came to Decker's office with charges that Buddy was growing marijuana in the back yard of his home at 2527 Boyd Street in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. This could be considered conduct unbecoming to a police officer -- but not for Buddy! After a secret meeting between the Federal Agents, Decker and Buddy, the matter was dropped and -- needless to say -- covered up, thus enabling Buddy to continue his career as Decker's Representative of Law and Order in Dallas County.
However, the Dallas Police began receiving complaints that Buddy was shaking down underworld characters for loot taken in several burglaries and selling the stuff himself. After several reports the Dallas Police began to investigate and, finally, obtained a search warrant for Buddy's home. Their BIG mistake was securing the warrant from Judge Richburg -- which was bad enough -- but Buddy's wife also worked for Richburg and this made matters worse. Strangely enough, they did not find anything. However, a few weeks later they were a little more careful and made a surprise visit to Buddy's home, where they, indeed, recovered such things as toasters, clothing and various items -- just as their informers had said. It would seem they had him this time, wouldn't it? But not so. Buddy explained that he had recovered the merchandise from where it had been hidden and had not had time to make a report on them and turn them in to the Property Room! The Dallas Police didn't buy this story but the pressure was again brought to bear by our Protector, Bill Decker, and the Dallas Police were left out in the cold -- no charges filed! They were certainly furious but what could they do? If WE as citizens cannot fight the Establishment, how can the Establishment fight the Establishment?
It was clear in my mind, and if the people with whom I worked could talk, I am sure they would agree that Buddy had a powerful hold on Decker. I base this on the fact that Buddy's popularity with Decker greatly increased after the assassination. Buddy was a chronic liar -- he was always telling Decker things he thought were happening in the County which he was checking on. Things which he was not doing. He also told Decker that he was in the theater when Oswald was captured and that he, in fact, helped the Dallas Police. This was completely untrue. Buddy never entered the Texas Theater -- his partner, Bill Courson, did.
Buddy also told Decker about a family of anti-Castro Cubans living in the Oak Cliff area and said that he was watching them. This part may have been true because we received the same information from the Dallas Police Intelligence Division. But one day Buddy made a visit to the house in Oak Cliff and when the Police and Sheriff's Deputies went to question them a few days later, they were gone. Did Buddy warn them? After all, he was very, very close to Jack Ruby. In fact, every time Buddy was in trouble with one of Jack Ruby's employees -- especially Nancy Perrin Rich -- Decker would send Buddy to straighten things out and put Nancy in her place -- with the help of Judge Richburg. Touching Jack Ruby was a no-no!
There were many other things which made Buddy suspect as a not-so-law abiding lawman, such as the swimming pool he built in his back yard (on his salary?). The concrete was furnished by a local contractor free of charge. Buddy used many pills he carried in the trunk of his unmarked squad car for trading with certain underworld characters -- pills for information. I learned from what I consider a reliable source that these pills had been confiscated (although no reports were made nor the pills turned in). Most of those involved in this exchange were women. It would seem that Buddy Walthers could not be terminated from the Sheriff's Department, no matter what.
One incident in 1966 which would have resulted in the firing of any other deputy occurred when Buddy was sent to Nevada to transfer a suspect wanted in Dallas. It seemed Buddy was given a certain amount of travel money which he lost at the gambling table in Las Vegas. Broke and in trouble, Buddy called none other than W. O. Bankston, who wired him enough money to bring his prisoner back to Dallas. Many times I wondered who was REALLY Sheriff but Buddy was about to reach the end of his rope.
In late 1968, when the Clay Shaw trial was being prepared, there was talk of bringing Buddy to New Orleans to testify. Well, that was a blow to the power which ruled Dallas. They could not have this half-wit on the witness stand. When the word reached Dallas, Decker was working on a double-murder which occurred in his county and had a lead on the suspect in January of 1969. The Shaw trial was scheduled for February and Decker sent Buddy and his partner, Alvin Maddox (who was about as efficient as a nutty professor), to a motel on Samuell Boulevard in Dallas to question a Walter Cherry about the killings. Cherry was an escaped convict and a suspect in the double-murder. Decker sent them to talk to Cherry without a warrant. When they entered the room at the motel Buddy was shot dead and Maddox wounded in the FOOT. Coincidence? Maybe! At any rate Buddy had been silenced. One more point for Dallas!
Back to November 22, 1963. As I have earlier stated, the time was approximately 12:40 p.m. when I ran into Buddy Walthers. The traffic was very heavy as Patrolman Baker (assigned to Elm and Houston Streets) had left his post, allowing the traffic to travel west on Elm Street. As we were scanning the curb I heard a shrill whistle coming from the north side of Elm Street. I turned and saw a white male in his twenties running down the grassy knoll from the direction of the Texas School Book Depository Building. A light green Rambler station wagon was coming slowly west on Elm Street. The driver of the station wagon was a husky looking Latin, with dark wavy hair, wearing a tan wind breaker type jacket. He was looking up at the man running toward him. He pulled over to the north curb and picked up the man coming down the hill. I tried to cross Elm Street to stop them and find out who they were. The traffic was too heavy and I was unable to reach them. They drove away going west on Elm Street.
In addition to noting that these two men were in an obvious hurry, I realized they were the only ones not running TO the scene. Everyone else was running to see whatever might be seen. The suspect, as I will refer to him, who ran down the grassy knoll was wearing faded blue trousers and a long sleeved work shirt made of some type of grainy material. This will become very important to me later on and very embarrassing to the authorities (F.B.I., Dallas Police and Warren Commission). I thought the incident concerning the two men and the Rambler Station Wagon important enough to bring it to the attention of the authorities at the command post at Elm and Houston.
I ran to the front of the Texas School Book Depository where I asked for anyone involved in the investigation. There was a man standing on the steps of the Book Depository Building and he turned to me and said, "I'm with the Secret Service." This man was about 40 years old, sandy-haired with a distinct cleft in his chin. He was well-dressed in a gray business suit. I was naive enough at the time to believe that the only people there were actually officers -- after all, this was the command post. I gave him the information. He showed little interest in the persons leaving. However, he seemed extremely interested in the description of the Rambler. This was the only part of my statement which he wrote down in his little pad he was holding. Point: Mrs. Ruth Paine, the woman Marina Oswald lived with in Irving, Texas, owned a Rambler station wagon, at that time, of this same color.