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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 21: The Murder of J.D. Tippit (Part 1)

Updated: Apr 23

Oak Cliff is a Dallas neighborhood that borders the Trinity River. It’s a mile southwest of Dealey Plaza. About 45 minutes after President Kennedy was assassinated, according to the Warren Report, Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit in Oak Cliff, near the corner of 10th Street and Patton Avenue.[1]

I’ve always thought that it was weird that Oswald would go out of his way to bring attention to himself by murdering a police officer if he had just killed the president. Wouldn’t he want to lay low?

The Warren Report says that Oswald saw Officer Tippit and realized that the cop recognized him as fitting the description of the man who shot the president. And, at that point, once Oswald knew he had been caught, he had no choice but to kill Tippit to avoid being captured.

But questions persist about whether Oswald could have been Tippit’s killer. In the next several episodes, we’ll try to find out whether Lee Harvey Oswald killed Officer J.D. Tippit and we’ll do our best to answer questions like:

How did witnesses describe the person who shot Tippit? What was Tippit doing in Oak Cliff in the first place? What exactly happened during the shooter’s interaction with Officer Tippit? Did the witnesses identify Oswald?

Warren Report Overview

As always, when looking at all things related to the JFK assassination, we start with the Warren Report. Regarding J.D. Tippit, here is what the Report says happened QUOTE “At approximately 1:15 p.m., Tippit …. pulled up alongside a man walking in the same direction [that Tippit was driving]. The man met the general description of the suspect wanted in connection with the assassination. He walked over to Tippit's car, rested his arms on the door on the right-hand side of the car, and apparently exchanged words with Tippit through the window. Tippit opened the door on the left side and started to walk around the front of his car. As he reached the front wheel on the driver's side, the man on the sidewalk drew a revolver and fired several shots in rapid succession, hitting Tippit four times and killing him instantly.”[2]

The Warren Report concluded that Oswald did kill Tippit and cited the following four pieces of evidence in support “QUOTE”:

1. “Two eyewitnesses saw the Tippit shooting and seven eyewitnesses heard the shots and saw the gunman leave the scene with revolver in hand. These nine eyewitnesses positively identified Lee Harvey Oswald as the man they saw.”

2. “The cartridge cases found at the scene of the shooting were fired from the revolver in the possession of Oswald at the time of his arrest to the exclusion of all other weapons.”

3. “The revolver in Oswald's possession at the time of his arrest was purchased by and belonged to Oswald.” and

4. “Oswald's jacket was found along the path of flight taken by the gunman as he fled from the scene of the killing.”[3]

If it is as simple as the Warren Report claims, then, of course, Oswald killed Officer Tippit. It’s an open and shut case.

What Witnesses Actually Said

Figuring out what happened to Officer Tippit requires an understanding of the geography of the area. So, before we jump in to the witness testimony let’s talk about the lay of the land in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. The Tippit murder scene is near the intersection of Patton Avenue - which runs North and South - and East 10th Street - which goes East and West. And just one block South of the Tippit crime scene, Patton intersects with Jefferson Boulevard - a major thoroughfare. The Texas Theater, where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, is about six blocks west of the intersection of Patton Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard. Ok, now let’s get to the witness statements.

Domingo Benavides told the Warren Commission that he noticed Tippit’s police car pulled over about two houses from the intersection of Patton Avenue and 10th Street. Tippit’s car was headed East, in the opposite direction Benavides was going. Benavides said, QUOTE

“I then pulled on up and I seen this officer standing by the door. The door was open to the car and I was pretty close to him. And I seen Oswald or the man that shot him standing on the other side of the car….The other man was standing to the right side of the car, riders side of the car, and was standing right in front of the windshield on the right front fender. And then I heard the shot. … And then I pulled up to the curb, hitting the curb, and I ducked down, and then I heard two more shots.”[4]

Benavides was only 15 feet away from the police car when he saw the gunman turn and walk back to the sidewalk. Describing the gunman, he said, QUOTE

He didn't exactly stop. And he threw one shell and must have took five or six more steps and threw the other shell up, and then he kind of stepped up to a pretty good trot going around the corner.”[5]

The next key witness the Warren Report mentions is Helen Markham, who was at the corner of East 10th and Patton as she was on her way to the bus stop at the corner of Patton and Jefferson Avenue.

Here’s Markham explaining what she saw:

He got out of the car, slow motion. He calmly got out of his car and he started around to the front of the car. And just as he got even with the front wheel on the driver side, this man shot him three times in the wink of your eye. And then he turned and he was fooling with his gun and he came back down 10thStreet towards me and he saw me and he stopped. And he looked at me. I looked at him. And he was serious. His eyes were big. Of course, mine were too. And all at once, I put my hands up on my face like this, real tight, closed my eyes, and I stood there, then I opened my fingers, opened my eyes, and gradually pulled them down. I don’t know what happened to him, but he went off in a little trot across the vacant lot.[6]

When we look at Markham’s Warren Commission testimony, she says that she first saw the man who would later shoot Tippit as he was crossing Patton Avenue walking away from her towards 10th Street.[7] She then saw a police car that QUOTE “was driving real slow almost up to this man, ….this man kept walking, you know, and the police car going real slow now, real slow, and they just kept coming into the curb, and finally they got way up there a little ways up, well, it stopped.” Markham said that the police car stopped and the man stopped walking too. She says she then QUOTE “saw the man come over to the car very slow, leaned and put his arms just like this, he leaned over in this window and looked in this window. …. [He put his arms] on the ledge of the window.”[8]

Markham says that it looked like the two men were having a friendly conversation. Then, she saw the gunman step back from the police car, at which point officer Tippit slowly opened the driver’s side door. Then, she echoes what Domingo Benavides saw – the man shot Tippit as he was walking around the front of the car.

But, what is weird about Markham’s testimony - and what conspiracy theorists point to in an effort to discredit her - is that she says she was alone with Tippit for 20 minutes, which we know is not true because numerous other witnesses testified to being on the scene. She also claims that Tippit tried to talk to her, but she couldn’t understand him - when all other witness testimony and the medical evidence points to Tippit dying instantly. Finally, Markham’s shoes were on top of the squad car when help arrived. This has been used as a way to say that Markham is kooky, but she was apparently trying to keep her work shoes clean due to how profusely Officer Tippit was bleeding.[9]

Virginia Davis, who was 16 years old when she testified to the Warren Commission, said she heard two shots from inside her apartment. Then she opened the door and saw Helen Markham screaming “He shot him. He is dead. Call the police.”[10] Then she saw a man cut across her yard and unload shells in it.[11]

Jimmy Burt was living on E 10th Street and ran outside when he heard two gunshots. He heard 4 more gun shots as he got in his car to see what was happening. He caught a glimpse of a man running back down 10thstreet and then South on Patton Avenue going towards Jefferson Boulevard.[12]

Cab driver William Scoggins largely echoes what other witnesses said. He heard three or four shots in quick succession, but couldn’t see the shooting from his vantage point because there was a bush that was in the way.[13] However, Scoggins did get a good look at the gunman as he was fleeing past his cab down Patton Avenue.

Ted Callaway, a used car salesman who was at work one block south of where Tippit was shot, said he heard five pistol shots.[14] Callaway told the Warren Commission that he QUOTE “saw a man cutting from one side of the street to the other. That would be the east side of Patton and over to the west side of Patton. And he was running. And he had a gun in his hand, his right hand.”[15] Callaway says he asked the shooter as he ran past, “Hey man, what the hell is going on?” Callaway says the man then went West on Jefferson Boulevard.[16]

Jack Tatum was driving West on 10th Street when he passed Officer Tippit and his shooter, just seconds before shots were fired. That would put him a few car lengths in front of Benavides going the same direction as he was. Tatum said that as he was driving through the intersection, he heard three shots at which point he stopped his car and turned back to look. The man then walked over to the police officer who was laying on the ground and shot him in the head at point blank range.[17]

So we have a good idea of what happened from corroborated witness testimony. The shooter was seen crossing Patton walking east down E 10th Street on the right side of the street by Helen Markham. Then, Officer Tippit pulled over to the right side of the street, but was still about 4 feet from the curb when he stopped. The gunman then stopped walking and went back to Tippit’s car where he leaned in and spoke to Tippit. After that, Tippit got out of the car and walked around to address the man, who then shot Tippit multiple times before he could get past the driver side front wheel. Then, the gunman administered the coup de grace to Tippit in the head as the officer lay dying on the ground. The gunman fled the scene by running past the cab driver Scoggins, through the yard of Virginia Davis, and past Ted Callaway at the used car dealership, before turning right on Jefferson Boulevard headed in the direction of the Texas Theater.


We’ve gone a layer deeper than the Warren Report conclusions and actually looked at the witness statements. But, did the witnesses identify Oswald as the shooter that they saw and if so, were those identifications the product of a reliable police line-up process?

Domingo Benavides – the person closest to the crime scene - did not identify Oswald to the police. He told the Dallas police dep artment on the day of the murder that he didn’t feel that he would be able to identify the killer. Benavides never even attended a police line up.[18]

When the Warren Commission interviewed Benavides, he did use the name Oswald to describe the shooter. Commission counsel David Belin asked him why he used the name Oswald to describe the man if he wasn’t sure enough to testify to the police that it was Oswald. Benavides replied that the gunman looked similar to the Oswald pictures he had seen on television and in newspapers every day for about a month after the shooting.[19]

But, there’s another piece of information about Benavides that is not in the Warren Report. His brother, Eddy Benavides, who looked just like him, was murdered shortly after the assassination. According to conspiracy theorists, Domingo Benavides wouldn’t admit that Oswald was the gunman, so, in an effort to intimidate Domingo to change his testimony, his brother Eddy was killed by mistake. Many conspiracy theorists put the date of Eddy’s murder as February 1964, which would mean the timeline is consistent with an intimidation motive since Domingo’s Warren Commission testimony was two months later in April of 1964.

I looked in to the Eddy Benavides murder angle and I can tell you that it has no relationship to intimidating his brother, Domingo, to change his testimony. Eddy Benavides was killed when he was accidentally shot during a bar fight involving other people.[20] It wasn’t an unsolved murder. A man named Radford Hill confessed to manslaughter and served time for it.[21] And, sure, you can say, well, who was Radford Hill? What was his angle? But that question is not even worth looking into because Eddy Benavides was killed in February of 1965, not 1964. We have the death certificate and newspaper stories about the homicide to prove it.[22] And because Eddy Benavides was killed ten months after his brother Domingo testified to the Warren Commission, we can say for sure that Eddy was not killed to tamper with his brother’s testimony.

So, Benavides never independently identified Oswald, but he does say that the man he saw looked like Oswald.

The person with arguably the second best view was Helen Markham. According to her Dallas Police Affidavit, she was 50 feet away at the time of the shooting. And Markham positively identified Oswald in a line-up at the police station.[23]

To demonstrate that Helen Markham didn’t really identify Oswald at the police line up, Warren Report critics point to this exchange that Markham had with Commission Counsel Joseph Ball:

Ball: Now when you went into the room you looked these people over, these four men?

HM: Yes, sir.

Ball: Did you recognize anyone in that lineup?

HM: No, sir.

Ball: Did you recognize anybody from their face?

HM: From their face, no.

Ball: Did you identify anybody of these four people?

HM: I didn’t know nobody…. I had never seen none of them.

Ball: Was there a number two man there?

HM: Number two is the one I picked…Number two was the man I saw shoot the policeman. I looked at him. When I saw this man, I wasn’t sure, but I had cold chills just run all over me.[24]

Markham’s testimony is not exactly ideal for the Warren Commission. Multiple times in the caption I just read, Markham denies ever having seen any of the men in the line up. Then, when prompted and reminded about the number two man by the Commission lawyer, Markham finally recalls that Number Two is the one she picked. But, she doesn’t say she picked him because she recognized him. She says it’s because she felt chills when she saw him. It’s testimony like this from Markham that led to Commission counsel Joseph Ball to say that Markham is QUOTE “an utter screwball”. Ball characterized her testimony as being “full of mistakes” and said it was “utterly unreliable.”[25] But, then again, Markham did go on to tell the Commission that she recognized Oswald “mostly from his face” and that she was sure that it was the same man.

Virginia Davis also identified the man she saw with the gun who ran through her front yard as Lee Harvey Oswald. Davis described the other four men in the line up who were not Oswald as one being “tall and slim”, two of the men being “chubby and short” and one man being “medium tall.”[26] Warren Report critics point to how varied the line-up suspects were in physical build to show that the line-ups were unfair to Oswald. But, without a doubt, Davis did identify Oswald as the man she saw with the gun.

Like Davis and Markham, cab driver William Scoggins identified Oswald in the line up at the Dallas Police Department. Scoggins said that Oswald was the man he saw fleeing the scene.[27]

Ted Callaway also positively identified Oswald in a police line up. Callaway said that the closest that he ever was to the man was 56 feet (which he measured after the fact). He said that he looked like the same man Callaway had seen run away with the gun in his hand.[28]

But, Warren Report critics point to the Commission testimony of Scoggins cab driver friend William Whaley to show that the police line-ups were stacked against Oswald. Whaley is the cab driver who gave Oswald a ride back to his rooming house after he got off the bus. (I guess all the cab drivers in Dallas knew each other in 1963.) Whaley told the Commission that when he and Scoggins went to the police station they QUOTE

“sat in the room awhile and directly they brought in six men, young teenagers, and they were all handcuffed together. You could have picked Oswald out without identifying him by just listening to him because he was bawling out policeman, telling them it wasn’t right to put him in the line up with these teenagers. He showed no respect for the policemen, he told them what he thought about them. They were trying to railroad him and he wanted his lawyer. Anybody who wasn’t sure could have picked out the right one just for that.”[29]

So, it was clear to William Whaley that the police line up made Oswald easy to pick out. But, from what Whaley is saying, some of that is the fault of the police for putting Oswald in a line up with a bunch of teenagers. But, you could also argue that part of that is Oswald’s fault for drawing attention to himself.

Were there any other issues that raise fairness questions about the police line ups that yielded so many positive IDs of Oswald as Tippit’s shooter? Yes. There are two major issues that, on top of what Whaley said, would make it obvious to any witness that Oswald was the guilty person.

First, Oswald had a black eye from his encounter with a police officer at the time of his arrest, which we’ll get to in a couple of episodes. None of the other men in the line-up had a black eye. But, the more egregious and telling error was that every man in the line-up had to say their name and their place of employment. The other men, who were all police officers, gave made up names and fake jobs. Oswald, on the other hand, told the truth. His name was Lee Harvey Oswald. He worked at the Texas Schoolbook Depository. By the time of the line up, everyone knew that President Kennedy had been shot from the Schoolbook Depository, even if they didn’t all know Oswald’s name. So, providing his place of work, combined with the black eye, would have been enough for witnesses to tell that Oswald was the one they should pick.[30]


We’ve covered the overview of the official story about what happened to Officer JD Tippit. And we’ve also looked at the details of the Warren Report witness testimony. It’s true that a total of nine eyewitnesses are on the record as confirming Oswald as the man who killed Tippit, some in line ups from the same day, some by looking at photos months after the fact. Either way, that is very strong evidence – strong enough to convict Oswald if there is no exonerating evidence to consider. Is there any exonerating evidence? Warren Report critics argue there is.

First, there were inconsistencies among eyewitnesses when it comes to the suspect’s appearance.

Benavides described the gunman as being about 5’ 10”, with a light beige jacket with a zipper and dark trousers. He said the man had a complexion that was “a little darker than average.”[31]

Helen Markham said the shooter had black hair, dark trousers and a tan jacket. He was about 18 years old and had a red complexion.[32] Barbara Davis, Virginia’s sister, said the man was wearing a black jacket.[33]William Scoggins, the cab driver, said the gunman was wearing dark trousers and that the shooter had a darker jacket than the one that was later found by police. Ted Callaway described the shooter as being about 5’10” with a fair complexion and dark hair, wearing dark trousers and a tan jacket.[34]

There is universal agreement among the key witnesses that the shooter was wearing dark trousers. The shooter’s height is also generally consistent among witnesses at around 5 foot 10. But, the descriptions of the shooter’s jacket range from light, to tan, to black. And Helen Markham, the key Warren Report witness for the Tippit murder, says the shooter had black hair and a red complexion. This description of the shooter having a red skin complexion was also mentioned by Ted Callaway and Domingo Benavides.”[35]

The Automatic

The second potentially exonerating piece of evidence is that between 1:33 and 1:40pm the police dispatcher received the following message from Officer H.W. Summers:

“I got an eyeball witness to the getaway man. That suspect in this shooting. He is a white male, twenty seven, five feet eleven inches, 165 pounds, black wavy hair, fair complected, wearing a light gray Eisenhower-type jacket, dark trousers and a white shirt and last seen running on the north side of the street from Patton on Jefferson and was apparently armed with a .32 dark finish automatic pistol which he had in his right hand.”[36]

In addition to not mentioning this radio call from Officer Summers, the Warren Commission didn’t explore the identity of the “eyeball witness” that Summers was referencing.

What’s interesting about this Summers description is that it refers to the suspect having black wavy hair, which is not like Oswald’s hair and having a .32 automatic instead of a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver, which is said to be the Tippit murder weapon. A revolver has a different look from an automatic because of the distinctive revolving cylinder on it. Conspiracy theorists say that anyone who was familiar enough with firearms to describe the gun as specifically as “a .32 automatic” would have known if it was really a revolver.[37] That’s not a likely mistake.

Minutes after the radio transmission from Officer Summers that mentioned the automatic, Sgt. Gerald Hill signaled the dispatcher that QUOTE “The shell at the scene indicates the suspect is armed with an automatic .38 rather than a pistol.”[38]

[Acquilla Clemons/Frank Wright]

The first witness to really throw a wrench in to the story of Oswald killing Tippit and offer some exonerating testimony was Acquilla Clemons. Clemons was a caregiver who worked at the house at 327 E. 10th Street, very close to where Tippit was shot. When Clemons was interviewed by attorney and Oswald defender, Mark Lane, in 1966 for his documentary Rush to Judgment, this is what she said:

Lane: Mrs. Clemons, where were you on November 22, 1963?

AC: I was working for Ms. Smutherland, 327 E 10th, just down the block from where Tippit was killed.

Lane: Did you know officer Tippit?

AC: Yes, I saw him many times.

Lane: And did you hear the shots?

AC: Yes, I heard the shots. I ran out into the street and looked down the street and I ran back down the street where he was lying and I looked at him.

Lane: Now, when you heard the shots and you went out of the house, did you see a man with a gun? What was he doing?

AC: Yes, I did. He was reloading his gun.

Lane: How would you describe that man?

AC: Well, he was kinda chunky. He was kinda heavy. He wasn’t a very big man. He was a short guy. Short and heavy.

Lane: Was there any other man there?

AC: Yes, there was on the other side of the street. All I know, he told him to go on.

Lane: Mrs. Clemons, the man who had the gun, did he make any motion at all to the other man across the street?

AC: He told him to go on. He waived his hand and said go on.

Lane: And then what happened with the man with the gun?

AC: He unloaded and reloaded.

Lane: And what did the other man do?

AC: The man kept going straight down the street.

Lane: Did they go in opposite directions.

AC: Yes. They wasn’t together. They went opposite from each other. The one who done the shooting went this way. The other one went down 10th Street that way.

Lane: What was the man who did not do the shooting wearing?

AC: Light khakis and a white shirt. He was tall. He was thin.

Lane: But the one who had the gun seconds after Tippit was shot, he was short and heavy?

AC: Yes, he was short and heavy.[39]

So, Clemons story is that she saw two men who appeared to be working together immediately after the Tippit shooting. She says she saw a short, chunky man holding the gun. She saw this short chunky gunman go the same direction as the previously mentioned witnesses saw the man they identified as Oswald. The other man, the one who didn’t have the gun, Clemons says went East down 10th street.

The two issues that the Clemons testimony raises are 1) that there was potentially an unarmed accomplice working with Tippit’s killer and 2) that the shooter was short and chunky – which is not how he is described by other witnesses. Clemons story has gained notoriety over the years partially because she goes on to tell Lane that she was never interviewed by the Warren Commission and that some unknown law enforcement agent told her to keep her mouth shut.

Lane: Did you testify before the Warren Commission?

AC: I haven’t said anything to anyone.

Lane: Did anyone come to see you after the murder of officer tippit?

AC: Yes, a man came to my house who looked like a policeman. I don’t know what he was. It was about two days after. He said that I might get hurt if I talk about what I saw. He told me it would be best if I didn’t say anything because I might get hurt.[40]

Acquilla Clemons is somewhat of a mystery. She disappeared after the Mark Lane documentary was released. Conspiracy theorists believe that something happened to her. Warren Report defenders think she died of natural causes. But, despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to find out what happened to Acquilla Clemons.

Frank Wright was a witness who was discovered by researchers George and Patricia Nash when they went to the neighborhood of the shooting looking for more information. Wright lived in an apartment on 10th Street. Wright, like Clemons, said there was another person involved in the shooting who he saw flee the scene. Wright described what he saw when he went outside after hearing shots, QUOTE:

“I saw a man standing in front of the car. He was looking toward the man on the ground. He stood there for awhile and looked at the man. The man who was standing in front of him was about medium height. He had on a long coat. It ended just above his hands. I didn’t see any gun. He ran around on the passenger side of the police car. He ran as fast as he could go and he got into his car. His car was a grey, little old coupe. It was about a 1950-51, maybe a Plymouth. It was parked on the same side of the street as the police car, but beyond it from me. It was heading away from me. He got into that car and he drove away as quick as you could see. After he got into the middle of the next block between Patton and Crawford, I didn’t look at him anymore.[41]

Wright was never contacted by the Warren Commission. What is especially strange about that is that Wright’s wife is the one who called the police to tell them to bring an ambulance. While it is true that a few other people called the police as well, the police records note that the shooting took place at 501 E. 10th, which is the address of the Wrights. So, the ambulance to pickup Tippit was dispatched to Wright’s house – yet neither of the Wrights were ever contacted by the Warren Commission.[42]

Next Time on Solving JFK: We’ll continue looking at the evidence and the witness statements in the murder of Officer J.D. Tippit.

[1] Warren Report at 6. [2] Warren Report at 6-7. [3] Warren Report at 20. [4] Testimony of Domingo Benavides - [5] Id. [6] [7] Testimony of Helen Marhkam. [8] Id. [9] [10] [11] Id. [12] [13] Testimony of William Scoggins. [14]Testimony of Ted Callaway. [15] Id. [16] Id. [17] [18] Testimony of Domingo Benavides - [19] Id. [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, p. 87 [26] [27] Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact at 257. [28] [29] Testimony of William Whaley. 2H 260-261. [30] Meagher at 257, 7H 234, 237-239, 241-242 [31] Testimony of Domingo Benavides - [32] Warren Report at 3H 319 [33] Warren Report at 3H 347 [34] Testimony of Ted Callaway. [35] [36] Dallas Police Dispatch Logs, CE 1974, p74; Meagher at 272 [37] Meagher at 273. [38] CE 1974, p78; Meagher at 273 [39] [40] [41] [42] Id.

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