W. G. ďBillĒ Lumpkin
Dallas Police Department
ďWe were going fast, very fast! Iím going to say we might have hit speeds up to 80Ė85 M.P.H. on StemmonsÖ I saw the limousine behind us, and I noticed this Secret Service man hanging on the back of it with his coat hanging, and I was amazed that he could hang onÖ When we got to Hines, there was a railroad track, and I know that I got airborneÖ I knew that if I went down Iíd probably get run overÖĒ
Born and raised in Avery, Texas, Bill Lumpkin worked at General Dynamics as an aircraft electrician after serving a hitch in the military. He joined the Dallas Police Department in 1953 and was assigned as one of the lead motorcycle officers in the Kennedy motorcade.
I donít know what time we went to work that day. I remember having a
detail with all the squads of the motor jockeys together, and we were all given
our assignments. We knew the route and where we were going and approximately how
long we were going to be. We were told what to do in case things happened, what
hospital to go to if an emergency came up. That would be the only time we would
use the siren.
I was one of the people that led the parade along with Leon Gray, Ellis, and McBride. There were quite a few of us in the parade, but some of the motor jockeys werenít assigned to the parade. Some of them were sent to stand-by stations. It wasnít considered necessarily an honor; you just did what they told you. I escorted a lot of parades, so it was just an assignment. Probably if I hadnít been in the parade, my feelings would have been hurt. But we used to have a lot of parades in town and there had been times when other jockeys had gone out of town on assignments, and Iíd stayed in to lead a parade because I had done it so many times. I was used to doing it.
There was nothing special about that particular morning. We spit and polished our equipment and our uniforms and were told to assemble at Love Field. There were a lot of folks there, a lot of folks!
We had no problems with the parade except one time, I believe, the President got out of the car on Lemmon. The Secret Service got on the back end and proceeded again. When you lead a parade, you limit your speed to whatever speed they want to go. And so we really had to keep our eye on his vehicle by turning around and looking because he was slowing down.
My job in leading the parade was to make sure the crowd was back out of the street in front, and then, of course, you alert the officers up on the parade route that the parade is behind you. But the main thing is, when youíre four abreast like that, you keep the street clear for the parade. You look back and try to be sure that the parade is in a group, that it hadnít straggled out. And you can slow them down for that. But nothing stands out. It was just a presidential motorcade.
We were in front of the Presidentís car when the shooting took place. We were stopped on Elm Street between Houston street and the Triple Underpass. There were only three of us at the time. McBride had already gone over to Stemmons to notify them that we were getting ready to come through since they were going to close Stemmons northbound. Sergeant Ellis had asked him to go on up and notify them that we were en route. But we had turned off of Main Street onto Houston for one block, then over to Elm Street, then turned back left, and we were stopped at the time before we heard the shots.
When the shots occurred, I thought it was a motorcycle backfiring. The motors were running really hot because we had been going slowly for so long. They would have a tendency to backfire when they were running hot, and running slow for a long period would cause them to run hot.
I heard three distinct bangs with none of them being together or anything like that. Thereís been conflicting reports where all the noise came from. From where I was it was behind me. Iíve heard people say a lot of different things over the years, but when you have buildings and other obstructions, youíre going to have an echo factor and different opinions.
The shots came from behind where I was and, as I mentioned, I thought it was a motorcycle backfiring at first, till I turned back and saw the commotion in the Presidentís convertible. I wasnít sure at the time what it was, but it later turned out that it was his wife on the back. There was no problem seeing the car, but at the time, I jut saw a figure. Then Chaney rode up to Curry and probably told him that the President had been shot.
We were still stopped at that time, and then Chief Curry comes on and says, ďLetís go boys!Ē Iím not sure that there was anything said other than that and, of course, we headed for Parkland because we knew in case something happened, that was where we were supposed to go.
We went under the Triple Underpass and took the entrance ramp to Stemmons Freeway. At that time, Sergeant Ellis stopped there at Stemmons. Leon Gray, Chaney, and myself escorted the parade on to Parkland Hospital by way of Stemmons to Industrial, Industrial to Hines, Hines to the entrance into the back of Parkland.
We were going very, very fast! Iím going to say we might have hit speeds up to 80Ė85 M.P.H. on Stemmons. We were going just as fast as we could get the car to go. I saw the limousine behind us, and I noticed this Secret Service man hanging on the back of it with his coat hanging, and I was amazed that he could hang on. When we got to Hines, there was a railroad track, and I know that I got airborne. Iím sure that I was out front and Gray and Chaney behind me. More than likely they got airborne, too. You didnít have a lot of space over on the other end, and when you land to turn, I knew that if I went down Iíd probably get run over. But you train and you know that you can drag your footstand without going over as long as you donít go over too far. Oh, youíre going to get some sparks and some noise when you go over that far, but unless you get on some oil or sand or something like that, you can stay up. But it was a fast ride!
Nothing much goes through your mind at a time like that. You know that youíve got a job to do, and you want to do your job well. When we came off of Stemmons, we were supposed to turn into Market Hall. Sergeant Striegel and some other officers were there, including some other jockeys, and he came out into the street waving because we were going too fast and that we were supposed to pull in there. I guess he hadnít heard that the President had been shot, and you have to worry about him not getting too far out into the street. But youíre concerned with just doing your job when something like this happens. After itís over, then you have time to think about it.
When we turned into the hospital, there was only a certain amount of parking space back there. Since I was in the lead, I stopped to get off my motor to make sure that cars that didnít belong there didnít come in because I was in a better position to react. So I stopped probably a couple hundred feet from the emergency entrance. When the last cars that I knew and the last jockeys came in, I stopped traffic. We had to get all that secured. I was the only one right then. Later some people came up to help me, but it wasnít any big problem then. You just stepped out and stopped them. That was the main thing you wanted to do was to just get more cars in there so you could maneuver the other vehicles.
I was probably still in the process of just getting off my motor when the limousine came by. I saw the President slumped down, and I saw Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was like a ghost; I thought he was shot. He came by after the President riding in a different vehicle, if I remember right. His face was familiar to me because I had had some problems with him in the past back when he was running the year Kennedy got the nomination.
Leon Gray, at that time, was my partner. Our assignment was that we were to ride on each side of his vehicle for his protection to keep people from rushing it. On this occasion, it was already past our time to get off, but we had to go ahead and finish the escort. Johnson didnít have any good things to say about motor jockeys, and he told his driver to force Gray back to the side of his car, which he did. He forced Gray into the curb on a bridge on Zang and nearly caused him to wreck. I had some words with his driver, so I guess thatís why I knew Johnson pretty well.
Anyway, I didnít see much of the President other than he was just slumped down and that he had been shot, and that his brains had been blown out. I must have seen that somewhere along the way. I know they kept wanting to know whether Kennedy was going to make his speech at the Market Hall, and finally this three-wheel officer came on and told them that his brains were blown out, and he wasnít going to be there, and this kept coming over the radio: ďWell, is he going to be able to make the speech?Ē We knew that he was dead.
We stayed out at Parkland for a long time, and then they sent us downtown to guard Oswald. We were on the third floor where they had him. There were quite a few of us up there and, of course, there were newspaper reporters and cameramen from all over.
The scene up there was wild! Absolutely wild! Forcefully, you had to keep them back. It was hysteria! Just asking them to stay back wouldnít do. They werenít responding! I can remember the cameras back then had big battery packs that looked like they weighted eighty or ninety pounds. I imagine they probably weighed a lot less than that, but they were big things, and their TV cameras were monstrous. Anyway, I can remember this guy that must have weighed over four hundred pounds who wouldnít stay back, and finally, I just had to put my fist into his stomach because I weighed only abut 160. Manners were a thing of the past, or courtesy. You could ask our own people to do something and they would try to cooperate with you. In fact, we knew quite a few of them personally. But the national people, a lot of them just didnít want to do what you asked them to do. They decided that they knew how close they could get a lot better than you did. But there was such a rush and, I guess, everybody wanted a story. Iíve been involved in escorts for Elvis Presley and the Beatles, and those were wild. But the crowds were young. These were adult people that you expect more out of.
I saw Oswald a few times. He was screaming and hollering and all this. He was like a wild man claiming his innocence. I donít remember what all he was saying, but I think he was talking about conspiracy. They didnít move him any more than they had to, Iím sure, but they brought him out of Captain Fritzís office, Homicide Division, and down a private elevator where I think they took him down to the lineups or details.
I think I got home around midnight that night as we stayed fairly late till they got some of the photographers out. I was off duty the next day because I had Saturdays and Sundays off then. Fortunately I wasnít there when Oswald was killed.
That was an hellacious mistake! It should never have happened even though I can see how it did happen. To me, that was a lot worse to Dallas than the President being killed.
I knew Jack Ruby, and I know that a lot of officers knew him. He owned nightclubs, and if you were in his place you didnít have to worry about the establishment. If you wanted to arrest somebody, you did not fight the establishment; you only had to worry about the person you were arresting. I had made some arrests up in his places and knew that you didnít have to worry about him if you were given a hard time by his enticing the crowd of people in his club not to let them arrest this person; in other words, trying to turn the crowd against you. He liked officers. I think he appreciated the job that they did, so I can see how he could have gotten down there and shot Oswald.
But I didnít know him that well and didnít know that much about him. Iíd been in the Vegas Club out on Oak Lawn and the Carousel downtown, but I didnít drink, so I didnít go into those type places other than to make arrests or on some police matter.
Like Iíve said, City Hall was a mess that weekend, which definitely contributed to what happened to Oswald. Jesse Curry probably was responsible for that, but he had bosses, too, and any chief has a certain amount of politics to play. Iím just speculating, though, because I was just a patrolman. They gave me a job to do and I did it. But City Hall belonged to the public, and I guess they were trying to let the public have as much freedom as they could.
Personally, Iíd like to have seen the press cleared out, but I do know that you have to let the press know. It would have been a whole lot easier if we could have just stood at the door and not let anybody in and had all the fighting there instead of having this whole hallway full of people pushing and shoving and trying to get room for more.
I think the Dallas Police Department handled it about as well as any department would have. Regardless of where it happened, youíre going to have to let the press have access, and then you have to let more in than you really like. But I think Dallas did as well as anybody would have and maybe better than a lot.
Looking back, the motorcycle patrolmen were an independent bunch back then. When I went into the Motorcycle Division, you were voted on before you got in. If the other jockeys thought you had an attitude that they thought was going to create problems, you wouldnít get on motors. That way the people knew you. You had to have a vote of confidence for you to get on. And you had good and bad motor jockeys just like you have in anything else. But it was like a club, and we were real close. I donít think that closeness prevailed in Radio Patrol. I know we had some jockeys that would kind of brag to the Radio Patrol about how great it was, and I chewed a lot of them out for that because, if youíve got something good going, if youíre going pretty smooth, donít rock the boat and brag to somebody else that youíve got it made a whole lot better than them. But weíre like kinfolks. Some of the new motor jockeys I donít know, but I still have coffee with some of the older ones today.
A couple of asidesÖ Officer J.D. Tippit and I were from the same Red River County up in Northwest Texas. I knew him, but I never worked with him. Tippit was in Radio Patrol, and since I stayed on Radio Patrol only about nine months and then went to Traffic Division, I never worked with him. I went on a three-wheeler then, from there to solo, and I knew a lot of these people because we didnít have substations back then when I went to work, so we all met at the same place. But youíd just speak to them and that was it. Some of them you knew better than others. Some of us were loudmouths, and some were pretty quiet. Tippit was fairly quiet. When I heard that Tippit had been shot, we had a traffic hit and run investigator named Tippitt, and I thought thatís who it was that got shot. But you just wonder how he got shot because he was a pretty strong guy.
I also knew Mary Moorman. She and McBride went to school together, I believe it was. Thatís how I met her, and she was down there with another lady named Jean Hill, so I knew them both. Mary took a picture of me sitting on my motorcycle there in front of the Triple Underpass just before Kennedy arrived. Then she took a picture of Kennedy and received a cash settlement for quite a bit of money. Iíve seen her a number of times since then. She gave me the Polaroid picture of me straddling this motorcycle, but I donít know where it is now. I knew where it was for a long time, and some years ago, somebody wanted to look at it, and now itís misplaced. Iíve been asked about that picture a number of times, but I just remember it had me being on a motorcycle. It didnít show anything suspicious that I recall. I didnít pay that much attention to it since I donít care much about getting my picture taken.
I retired in 1981 after twenty-seven and a half years on the department. When I retired, another man and I had a business selling and repairing lawn mowers, chain saws, garden tractors, and tillers. We sold that business, and now Iím helping raise grandchildren.
Bill Lumpkin now works on a part-time basis as a bailiff for the Dallas County Sheriffís Department and lives with his wife in Mesquite, Texas.
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