The JFK 100

Arrest at the Texas Theatre

Gary Oldman as Lee Oswald: "I am not resisting arrest!"


In Oliver Stone's JFK, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) makes some odd claims about the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald in his closing summation to the jury:


On a Dallas avenue near the Texas Theatre, Oswald moves along, spooked. Police cars roar by with sirens blaring. Johnny Brewer, in a shoestore, spots him and follows him.

Oswald is next seen by shoe salesman Johnny Brewer lurking along Jefferson Avenue. Oswald is scared. He begins to realize the full implications of this thing. He goes into the Texas Theatre, possibly his prearranged meeting point, but though he has $14 in his pocket, he does not buy the 75-cent ticket. Brewer has the cashier call the police.

Outside the Texas Theatre Oswald walks past the cashier, who is out on the sidewalk watching the police cars go by. A double feature is playing -- Cry of Battle with Van Heflin and War is Hell. He goes in.

CUT TO: 30 officers arriving at the theatre in a fleet of patrol cars.

JIM (V. O.)
. . . in response to the cashier's call, at least thirty officers in a fleet of patrol cars descend on the movie theatre. This has to be the most remarkable example of police intuition since the Reichstag fire. I don't buy it. They knew -- someone knew -- Oswald was going to be there. In fact, as early as 12:44, only 14 minutes after the assassination, the police radio put out a description matching Oswald's size and build. . . .(1)

Inside the theater, Cry of Battle is on the screen. Twelve to fourteen spectators sit scattered between the balcony and ground floor. Brewer leads the officers onto the stage and the lights come on. He points to Oswald.

JIM (V. O.)
In any case, Brewer helpfully leads the cops into the theatre and from the stage points Oswald out . . .

The cops advance on Oswald, who jumps up, as if expecting to be shot.

This is it!

Kill the President, will you?

Scared, Oswald takes a swing at a policeman. He pulls out his gun. The officers close in on him from the rear and front. A wrestling and shoving match ensues. One officer gets a chokehold on Oswald and another one hits him.

JIM (V. O.)
The cops have their man! It has already been decided -- in Washington.

Outside the theater, Oswald, his eye blackened, is led out by the phalanx of officers. They are surrounded by an angry crowd.

Kill him! Kill him!

JIM (V. O.)
Dr. Best, Himmler's right hand man in the Gestapo, once said "as long as the police carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally." That mindset allowed for 400 political murders in the Weimar Republic of 1923-32, where the courts were controlled and the guilty acquitted. Oswald must've felt like Josef K in Kafka's The Trial. He was never told the reason of his arrest, he does not know the unseen forces ranging against him, he cries out his outrage in the police lineup just like Josef K excoriates the judge for not being told the charges against him. But the state is deaf. The quarry is caught. By the time he is brought from the theater, a large crowd is waiting to scream at him. By the time he reaches police headquarters, he is booked for murdering Tippit . . .(2)


This is powerful rhetoric. Does Oliver Stone know what he's talking about? Let's see.

Much of Oliver Stone's scenario relies on the notion that the Texas Theatre was a "prearranged meeting point" for Lee Harvey Oswald and an unknown associate or associates. But if Oliver Stone had taken the trouble to glance at a map, he would have seen that, at the time he encountered J. D. Tippit in Oak Cliff, Oswald was headed in the opposite direction, away from the theater. It was only after murdering Tippit that Oswald changed course and took refuge in the theater.(3)

Oliver Stone, of course, is on record denying that Oswald had anything to do with Tippit's murder. Yet three eyewitnesses saw Oswald murder J. D. Tippit at the intersection of Tenth and Patton Streets; all three later positively identified Oswald as the murderer. Close to a dozen witnesses positively identified Oswald as the man they saw either approach J. D. Tippit's patrol car prior to the shooting, or flee the area, emptying spent cartridges from his revolver, subsequently. Four of those spent cartridges were recovered, and they were ballistically linked to the .38 Smith & Wesson revolver, serial number V510210, to the exclusion of all other weapons, owned by Lee Harvey Oswald and taken from Oswald upon his arrest. Midway between the murder scene and the theater, Oswald discarded the jacket with which the housekeeper of his roominghouse, Earlene Roberts, saw him leave the apartment. That jacket has been linked to Oswald via fibers found inside, which match the fibers of the shirt Oswald was wearing when arrested.(4)

In other words, there is no doubt about the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald murdered Officer J. D. Tippit, and there is no doubt he was headed away from the Texas Theatre until the moment he encountered Tippit at Tenth and Patton Streets; only after the shooting did Oswald change course and head in the direction of the theater. There can be little doubt, then, that Oswald had no intention of going into the Texas Theatre prior to that time. Which means that Oliver Stone's theory is a fantasy.

So why did all those police cars converge upon the Texas Theatre?

Longtime researcher Gus Russo writes:


By 1:22 [about seven or eight minutes after the Tippit murder], police had broadcast a description of the Tippit killer [obtained from witnesses at the scene]. Squad cars descended on the area and proceeded to shake down all the buildings in the vicinity to locate the cop-killer. A number of Dallas police have candidly admitted to the author that they were more disturbed and angry over the slaying of Tippit than they were over the death of Kennedy. "The President was one thing," one officer observed, "but this was one of our own."

In addition, most of the experienced cops automatically linked the two murders. One officer on the scene, Gerald Hill, recalls, "I made the statement that the two incidents were awfully close together. Although Dallas is a big town now, it wasn't that big at the that time. You didn't have two major incidents like this going on that close together. It would automatically make you suspicious." Former Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander shared this professional's gut feeling, recalling, "We all knew the same man that killed the President had killed Tippit. We had made up our minds by the time we got there."(5)


Dallas Morning News reporter Hugh Aynesworth was in Dealey Plaza, by the Texas School Book Depository, when he heard the police radio announce that an officer had been killed in Oak Cliff. He and numerous other newsmen immediately hopped in their cars and headed for that area. "A cop isn't shot three miles away from where the President is shot unless there's something connected," Aynesworth observes.(6)

The simple fact of the matter is that it was Johnny Calvin Brewer, more than any other person, who was responsible for the timely arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald. Brewer, who worked about eight blocks from the scene of the Tippit murder, had heard on the radio first that the President had been shot, then that a patrolman had been killed in Oak Cliff. Hearing police sirens passing his store, Brewer looked outside and saw Lee Harvey Oswald, who looked disheveled and frightened, Brewer thought, and seemed to be trying to conceal himself in the recessed entranceway to the store. When the police car had gone, Oswald headed down the street, and Brewer followed.(7)

When Oswald ducked into the Texas Theatre without paying, Brewer alerted ticket-taker Julia Postal and had her call the police.(8) It was this phone call that brought a number of patrol cars to the theater -- not because they "knew" Oswald was "supposed" to be there, but because, as Gerald Hill and Bill Alexander said, the assumption was that this man could be connected to the murders of J. D. Tippit and the President.

As Oliver Stone himself notes, a large crowd gathered around the theater when police cars started arriving, surely not to get a glimpse of someone who cheated a movie theater out of a ticket. As Stone also notes (didn't he read his own screenplay?), witnesses heard a policeman call out, "Kill the President, will you?"(9)

In an interview with researcher Steve Bochan, FBI agent Jim Hosty describes the way things appeared that day:


HOSTY: The police officer was killed in a very quiet residential neighborhood shortly after the president was killed and when we heard that, we immediately thought there was a connection. We knew that the gunman had gotten out of the [Book Depository] building and there was a description out for him. And then here comes a policeman who gets shot in broad daylight, in a quiet residential neighborhood. There had to be a connection. And here's Oswald now, picked up, and remember we knew by this time that the shots had come from the building where he worked.

BOCHAN: Right.

HOSTY: So, and here he's out of work, he's away from the building and he shoots a policeman. The thing is starting to add up. Now, that wasn't enough to file on him right then, but that sure made him number one suspect.

BOCHAN: Yeah, in your mind it . . .

HOSTY: In everybody's mind.


HOSTY: In a police mind. Because I think when -- and in the public's mind -- because when the police supposedly said, when they arrested him, "Kill the president, will ya?" And same thing with the public when they took him out of the theater they were yelling and trying to lynch him almost, and everybody assumed that it was connected with the President's shooting.


Oliver Stone compares Oswald's arrest to something out of Kafka, but the filmmaker glosses over a most significant fact: poor, little, innocent, "patsy" Lee Harvey Oswald tried to murder the first police officer who approached him in the theater.

From the Warren Commission Report:


Patrolman M. N. McDonald, with Patrolmen R. Hawkins, T. A. Hutson, and C. T. Walker, entered the theater from the rear. Other policemen entered the front door and searched the balcony. Detective Paul L. Bentley rushed to the balcony and told the projectionist to turn up the house lights. Brewer met McDonald and the other policemen at the alley exit door, stepped out onto the stage with them and pointed out the man who had come into the theater without paying. The man was Oswald. He was sitting alone in the rear of the main floor of the theater near the right center aisle. About six or seven people were seated on the theater's main floor and an equal number in the balcony.

McDonald first searched two men in the center of the main floor, about 10 rows from the front. He walked out of the row up the right center aisle. When he reached the row where the suspect was sitting, McDonald stopped abruptly and told the man to get on his feet. Oswald rose from his seat, bringing up both hands. As McDonald started to search Oswald's waist for a gun, he heard him say, "Well, it's all over now." Oswald then struck McDonald between the eyes with his left fist; with his right hand he drew a gun from his waist. McDonald struck back with his right hand and grabbed the gun with his left hand. They both fell into the seats. Three other officers, moving toward the scuffle, grabbed Oswald from the front, rear and side. As McDonald fell into the seat with his left hand on the gun, he felt something graze across his hand and heard what sounded like the snap of the hammer. McDonald felt the pistol scratch his cheek as he wrenched it away from Oswald. Detective Bob K. Carroll, who was standing beside McDonald, seized the gum from him.

The other officers who helped subdue Oswald corroborated McDonald in his testimony except that they did not hear Oswald say, "It's all over now." Deputy Sheriff Eddy R. Walthers recalled such a remark but he did not reach the scene of the struggle until Oswald had been knocked to the floor by McDonald and the others. Some of the officers saw Oswald strike McDonald with his fist. Most of them heard a click which they assumed to be a click of the hammer of the revolver. . . .

Two patrons of the theater and John Brewer testified regarding the arrest of Oswald, as did the various police officers who participated in the fight. George Jefferson Applin, Jr., confirmed that Oswald fought with four or five officers before he was handcuffed. . . . John Gibson, another patron in the theater, saw an officer grab Oswald, and he claims that he heard the click of a gun misfiring. . . . Johnny Brewer testified he saw Oswald pull the revolver and the officers struggle with him to take it away but that once he was subdued, no officer struck him.(10)



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account of this incident.


Article continues below.


M. N. "Nick" McDonald on Nov. 22, 1963



Lee Harvey Oswald was not headed to the Texas Theatre prior to the moment he killed Officer J. D. Tippit in Oak Cliff. No one knew ahead of time Oswald would end up at the theater. No sinister conspiracy was behind his arrest; it was the actions of an alert citizen and the intuition of experienced police officers that led to Oswald's arrest. And while Stone would have us believe Oswald was a poor, naive waif bullied by a monolithic, Kafkaesque conspiracy, it was Lee Harvey Oswald who tried to gun down a second police officer, M. N. "Nick" McDonald, in cold blood as McDonald approached him in the Texas Theatre.

In his misguided fervor to exonerate Lee Harvey Oswald, Oliver Stone consistently refuses to face the facts.



Copyright © 2001 by David Reitzes


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1. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 173. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

For the sake of economy, one passage has been omitted from Costner's monologue: "Brewer says the man was wearing a jacket, but the police say the man who shot Tippit left his jacket behind. Butch Burroughs, theater manager, says Oswald bought some popcorn from him at the time of the Tippit slaying. Burroughs and witness Bernard Haire also said there was an Oswald lookalike taken from the theatre. Perhaps it was he who sneaked into the theatre just after 1:30."

Brewer did not describe Oswald wearing a jacket; in a signed statement of December 6, 1963, Brewer said Oswald "was wearing a brown sport shirt"; in his subsequent Warren Commission testimony, Brewer specified that Oswald wore a T-shirt beneath his outer shirt and had no jacket. (Sheriff's Office affidavit, December 6, 1963; Warren Commission Report, p. 178.)

Brewer had no doubt whatsoever that Lee Harvey Oswald was the man whom he followed down the street into the theater; it was Brewer, in fact, who pointed Oswald out to policemen inside. Oswald's reaction -- punching a policeman and drawing his gun -- should serve as ample confirmation that Brewer had the right guy.

Butch Burroughs has originated a fair amount of misinformation about Oswald's arrest over the years. Gerald Posner writes, "Burroughs, who was rejected by the Army because his intelligence score was too low, said in a 1987 interview [with Jim Marrs] that Oswald had been in the theater since 1:00 PM and had bought popcorn from him. That was before a dozen witnesses saw Oswald kill Tippit [It may even have been before Oswald was seen leaving his roominghouse by Earlene Roberts.--DR], and then Brewer followed him into the theater. When Oswald sneaked into the theater, Brewer and [Julia] Postal did not even tell Burroughs, because he was too 'excitable.'" (Gerald Posner, Case Closed [New York: Random House, 1993], p. 281 fn.)

Bernard Haire told Jim Marrs in 1988 that he saw someone taken out the rear of the Texas Theater (Haire could not see if the man was handcuffed) and driven away in a police car. Though Haire does not describe the man as an Oswald lookalike, he was under the impression for years -- until Jim Marrs told him otherwise, it would appear -- that the man he had seen arrested was Oswald. (Jim Marrs, Crossfire [New York: Carroll and Graf, 1989], p. 354.) Since Oswald was taken out the front, where he was photographed by newsmen, Haire obviously did not see Oswald; the likeliest explanation is that the man was an eyewitness from the theater being taken to the Sheriff's Office to give a statement. (Several Texas Theatre witnesses did give statements to the Sheriff's Office that day.)

2. Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), pp. 174-75. All quotations are from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.

3. Warren Commission Report, p. 158.

4. See The JFK 100: The shooting of Officer Tippit. Fiber evidence: Dale K. Myers, With Malice (Milford, Mich.: Oak Cliff Press, 1998), p. 284.

5. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword (Baltimore: Bancroft, 1998), p. 316.

6. Larry A. Sneed, No More Silence (Dallas: Three Forks, 1998), p. 24.

7. Warren Commission Report, p. 178.

8. Warren Commission Report, p. 178.

9. Warren Commission Report, p. 179.

10. Warren Commission Report, pp. 178-79.



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