An Overlooked Texas Theater Witness

By Bill Drenas

The events that took place at the Texas Theater in the early afternoon of November 22, 1963, have always fascinated me. I am not sure of the reason why. It could be that during the time of President Kennedy's assassination and the subsequent arrest of Lee Oswald at the Texas Theater I was also in a movie theater in my hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. My mother had taken me to the Strand Theater in downtown Lowell for an early afternoon matinee. We had no idea that anything had happened until we left the theater and saw a family friend on the street. She was very upset and told us the president had been shot and killed earlier in the afternoon in Dallas, Texas.

Many years later when I was finally able to begin visiting Dallas on a regular basis my mentor, a longtime Dallas resident, the late Stan Clark, had many in-depth conversations about the Texas Theater. Stan was a very thorough Kennedy assassination researcher. His files on several assassination related topics were masterpieces of serious research. By trade Stan was an architect, with a keen eye for details, and this was reflected in the completeness of his files and his personal annotations to all of the documents in any specific file folder.

In October 1999 during one of my long-term stays in Dallas, Stan mentioned to me that he was very friendly with Paul Bentley, one of the Dallas police officers who arrested Lee Oswald at the Texas Theater. I asked Stan if it would be possible for us to go over and visit with Paul at some point. Stan told me that Paul was a very gracious and friendly man and that we could probably stop by to see him soon. A few days later Stan pulled his file on the Texas Theater and we carefully reviewed the report made by Detective Paul Bentley which appears in Warren Commission Exhibit 2003, pp. 77-78. Stan mentioned that we would go over and see him that day, and that this first visit with Paul would be a brief visit just to introduce Paul to me and then we could go back at another time to do a more in-depth interview. When we arrived at Paul's house I was immediately greeted and made to feel very comfortable by this congenial gentleman. As we talked about the assassination I mentioned that I wanted to do a very detailed write up about the rest of the Texas Theater for a possible future book project to which Paul said he was very happy to help me. We then made plans to come back at a later date. During this conversation Stan was holding Paul's two-page police report about the Texas Theater arrest. As we were heading out the door Stan asked Paul, “Who is this C. F. Bentley, Jr. that is mentioned in your report?” Paul replied that it was his nephew, once also a Dallas police officer, who was present at the Texas Theater arrest. I asked, ”Do you think he would mind talking to us about it?” At that point Paul got on the telephone and called C. F. to arrange a time for us to go over and visit with him.

A few days later my good friend and research partner Ken Holmes Jr, Stan Clark, and I went over to visit Paul Bentley’s nephew. The front door was opened by a tall, good looking, well-built man in his early 60s who introduced himself as C. F. Bentley Jr. He was very friendly and immediately made us feel at home. After the introductions we sat at his kitchen table and C. F. and Ken, who was a former police officer, exchanged some small talk about law enforcement. C. F. then asked the three of us, “Do you boys know how Oswald got that black eye?” One of us mentioned that one of the arresting officers might have punched him. I said that Oswald may have hurt his eye when he fell into the theater seats. C. F. then went on to explain that he was responsible for Oswald receiving that black eye. He told us that as the officers were struggling to take the pistol away from Oswald, C. F. took the butt end of his shotgun and smashed it into Lee Oswald’s head.

At that point we decided to ask him to tell the story from the beginning so that we could get all of the details. He started by giving us some background in-formation. C. F. told us he had been around law enforcement officers for most of his life. His father C. F. Bentley was a captain in the Dallas Police Reserves for many years and had also spent a lot of time with his uncle Paul Bentley, and Paul’s brother in law L. C. Graves. They were both detectives in the Dallas Police. (L. C. Graves was the homicide detective that was holding on to the left arm of Lee Oswald when Jack Ruby shot Lee.) While still in his teens C.F. joined the U. S. Air Force in the mid-1950s and had a tour of duty in Korea. When he came back home he took the exam for the police department and was then hired and attended the Dallas Police Academy in 1958. Upon graduation he became a sworn police officer with badge number 1485. For the next few years he worked on radio patrol in several different districts all over the city of Dallas.

He was one of three officers on the first Dallas police K-9 unit. He received two weeks special training with the German shepherd police dogs on a farm near Springfield, Missouri, in September 1961. Thereafter he worked for several years with the K-9 unit.

In the early morning hours of December 21, 1965, he was nearly killed in the line of duty. At about 11:45 p.m. he and his partner spotted a car on Stemmons Freeway that matched the description of a stolen car. When he signaled a car to pull over it immediately took off and the officers gave chase. The chase continued north at speeds up to 100 miles an hour. In the town of Carrollton he lost control of the car and it plunged off the highway into a ravine. This accident left him seriously injured with severe facial cuts, missing teeth, and a back injury. These injuries required a long-term hospital stay.