Dale Myers' With Malice:
Lee Harvey Oswald and the Murder of Officer J. D. Tippit
Copyright © 1999 by David Reitzes
Originally published in Walt Brown's JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly
Few Americans know the name J. D. Tippit, yet the murder of that Dallas patrolman on November 22, 1963, has always been one of the key events surrounding the Kennedy assassination. Supporters of the lone assassin theory of Lee Harvey Oswald's guilt often refer to it as the "Rosetta Stone" of the assassination, citing it as an open-and-shut case that proves Oswald a Presidential assassin: Why else, they ask, would he have murdered Tippit? Conspiracy theorists find the event a source of endless mystery: Was the killer in fact Oswald? If so, why are there so many bizarre discrepancies in the evidence? Why did Tippit stop him in the first place? Was Tippit involved with the conspiracy? What about housekeeper Earlene Roberts's claim that a police car stopped and honked its horn outside Oswald's rooming house at 1026 North Beckley while Oswald was inside? Was this Tippit?
Tippit's murder, of course, is only one of the issues with which conspiracy-oriented researchers find themselves at odds with proponents of the official story, but in many ways it's one of the most enigmatic. After all, Oswald was forever silenced shortly after his arrest, and Tippit left behind no indication of why he stopped this pedestrian seemingly at random, nor has anyone credible come forward to explain what Tippit's role in the scheme of an assassination conspiracy could have been.
Dale Myers's With Malice, then, practically achieves the unthinkable: It has set the record straight.
In a nutshell, With Malice affirms the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed J. D. Tippit. Make no mistake, however: Dale Myers is no Posner. He's done his homework and his conclusions are both authoritative and well documented. In fact, he succeeds in tying up so many loose ends that it's hard to say who should feel more embarrassed: thirty-five years' worth of conspiracy theorists or members of the two well funded and hugely resourceful government committees whose unconvincing work left so much room for doubt.
Excepting biographical chapters on Tippit and Oswald, the book is essentially divided into three parts. First, Myers exhaustively traces Tippit's movements in the hours before his murder and painstakingly walks the reader through practically each second of the murder, sorting out the details of what each eyewitness reported. A thorough and satisfying section on hard evidence follows, while the lengthy "Hints and Allegations" discusses the many conspiracy theories and lingering questions that have bewildered researchers all these years.
While Myers can't answer every question, he refuses to dodge the anomalies he cannot explain. He cannot, for example, conclusively explain why Acquilla Clemons reported seeing two men flee the murder scene; perhaps no one ever could. What's impressive are the unexpected points he does score. For example, how many of us knew that, although Earlene Roberts was besieged by reporters soon after Oswald was apprehended, nearly a full week passed before she mentioned anything to anyone about a police car stopping by the house? I didn't know that. Yet the written record is unequivocal about it, and Myers' personal interviews with a number of newsmen and law enforcement officers who questioned Roberts at the time confirm that only later did the story about the police car arise.
Come to think of it, did anyone ever look into the two police officers, Burnley and Alexander, that Roberts reportedly knew, whom she said she initially thought must be paying her a visit? Surely someone MUST have. But no, Myers is the first. He tracked down Charles T. Burnley, the one and only "Burnley" on the police force in 1963, who told Myers he'd never so much as heard of Earlene Roberts or her story until being informed of it around 1991-92. Roberts did know a DPD officer named Floyd J. Alexander, Sr., though, the man she describes in her testimony as a former employer. Myers found Alexander and confirmed this. The only problem is that Alexander had resigned from the force in 1957, leading one to wonder why Mrs. Roberts would be expecting him to visit in a squad car in 1963.
Perhaps it isn't so strange, then, that Alexander recalled Roberts as someone who wasn't "very bright, had a limited number of friends, and would do almost anything to get attention." The last word may belong to Roberts' former employer Gladys Johnson, who recalled having fired Roberts "a time or two" for some of her strange habits, one of which, Mrs. Johnson told Myers, was "[j]ust sitting down and making up tales."
Case closed? Myers doesn't explicitly say so, but the conclusion is hard to escape.
It's Myers's work on the hard evidence that is the backbone of With Malice. He details the evidence that Oswald owned the murder weapon, regardless of what some theorize. He demonstrates that the four shells in evidence were indeed fired from that gun to the exclusion of all others, quite to the contrary of claims made by influential conspiracy-oriented researchers such as Larry Ray Harris and Robert Groden.
He points out that no matter how weak is the chain of possession for the two infamous shells that Officer J. M. Poe was unable to positively identify for the Warren Commission, the chain of possession of the other two shells in evidence is solid. He offers a well reasoned argument to support one of the Warren Commission's theories concerning the discrepancy in manufacturers between one of the recovered bullets and one of the shells. He even digs up previously overlooked physical evidence that the famous jacket in evidence indeed came from Oswald's person.
The only fault I find in this section is Myers' failure to address the conflicts in the chain of possession of the revolver through the succession of police officers who handled it on November 22. This could have been dealt with easily enough (see Walt Brown, "Talking with Gerald Hill," JFK/Deep Politics Quarterly, July, 1998) and certainly warrants a mention.
Perhaps the most memorable portion of the book is Myers' theory of the Tippit murder itself, a scenario so simple and sensible it almost defies belief.
Conspiracy theorists have long cited key eyewitness Helen Markham's assertion that Tippit's killer was walking east on Tenth Street -- when all the other witnesses said he was walking west -- as one of many problems with her testimony. However, the HSCA tracked down eyewitness Jack Ray Tatum in 1978, and Tatum too said Oswald was walking east as Tippit approached him.
But as Tippit's car, cruising east on Tenth Street, drew near Oswald, cabdriver William Scoggins caught a glimpse of Oswald and made an observation that essentially went unnoticed until Myers fit it into the proper chronology: "I couldn't say whether he was going west or in the process of turning around, but he was facing west when I saw him." Scoggins was parked slightly to the west of Oswald; Oswald never passed him. His initial impression seems to have been dead on the mark. The next two witnesses to see the killer were Jack Tatum and Helen Markham, who both saw him walking east as Tippit's car pulled alongside him.
The reason Tippit stopped Oswald, it would seem, is the same reason the eyewitnesses disagree on which way Oswald was headed: because he was walking west until he saw Tippit's patrol car, which prompted him to turn around and head in the other direction, back east the way he'd come. Chances are that Tippit noticed Oswald for the same reason that Johnny Calvin Brewer soon would: He was acting suspiciously. It only took thirty-five years for someone to figure that out.
In addition to his review of the events and theories surrounding Tippit's death, Myers is the first researcher to put a human face on the man that the Warren Report left, in the words of Sylvia Meagher, "unknown and unknowable." Granted, it's not a complex portrait that emerges. Where Meagher described the Warren Report's portrayal of Tippit as one-dimensional, Myers' Tippit seems on the two-dimensional side: simply a loving family man and a good cop, with perhaps a few minor blemishes on both counts.
In giving the Tippit murder the scrutiny it deserves, Myers has done more than simply validate the Warren Commission's beleaguered conclusion; he has created the new standard reference to the event. Those who still desire to exonerate Oswald of Tippit's slaying will no longer be able to point to the shoddy work of the Warren Commission or the cursory rubber-stamping given the case by the HSCA as the case to overcome; it is Myers with which they will have to reckon. He's done, in essence, what all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't: closed the Tippit case.
I can assert this from a position of some slight authority, being a conspiracy theorist who has long argued with conviction that Lee Harvey Oswald would not, could not, and absolutely did not kill Officer J. D. Tippit. Dale Myers has single-handedly changed my mind. In fact, had the Warren Commission presented the evidence as effectively as Myers does -- regardless of whatever happened in Dealey Plaza that day -- there may well have been no doubt whatsoever about the identity of Tippit's murderer all these years.
Can there be any higher praise?