An Overlooked Texas Theater Witness (page 2)

By Bill Drenas

In 1967 he was contacted to organize the first police department and become the first police chief of Bella Vista, Arkansas. He remained police chief there for the next 18 years.

C. F. then began to tell us his story about the Texas Theater. Friday, November 22, 1963, was his day off from work. He was shopping for a new television set with his wife and young son at the Sears Roebuck store on West Jefferson Boulevard, in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. Suddenly, news about shots being fired at the president's motorcade in downtown Dallas appeared on the television sets that he was in the process of looking at. Then, there was an announcement calling for any off-duty police officers to report for duty. He immediately took his family to his car and drove to his home in the southwestern part of Oak Cliff. He quickly changed into his uniform and headed to the Dallas Police Southwest Substation on West Illinois Avenue that was located less than a mile from his home. When he arrived at the substation he went to the garage area where the police cars were kept and asked the mechanic for a vehicle. The mechanic told him to take whichever car was available and he took the next one up. He then went inside the substation and drew a shotgun. Because of the amount of heavy radio traffic he could not clear as a unit in service. At that point he began to run code 3 (red lights and siren) towards the location in downtown Dallas where the president had been shot. During the ride towards downtown Dallas, reports of an officer being shot in Oak Cliff were being broadcast over the police radio. C. F. decided not to go downtown, and instead began driving to the location where the officer had been shot since he was already in Oak Cliff.

When C. F. arrived at East 10th Street and Patton Avenue, he observed that the officer’s body had already been removed, and that several uniform officers and detectives were on the scene. The police dispatcher had broadcast a description of the suspect in the officer’s shooting as a white male wearing a white jacket and dark pants. C. F. spoke to the sergeant at the scene and was told to search the neighborhood for the assailant. Additional information was broadcast on the police radio stating that the suspect had taken his jacket off and thrown it behind a service station on East Jefferson Boulevard.

C. F. was driving south on Zangs Boulevard and had just turned east on West Jefferson Boulevard when a call came over the police radio saying that an unknown subject had entered the basement of the Oakland Public Library at the intersection of East Jefferson Boulevard and Marsalis Avenue. C. F. proceeded to the library along with several other squads that were available. The officers got out of their patrol cars, searched the building, and found out that the suspect in question was an employee of the library. All the officers re-entered their patrol cars and left the scene. C. F. began driving west on East Jefferson Boulevard. He was then sitting at a red light at the intersection of Zangs Boulevard and East Jefferson Boulevard. When the light turned green he traveled approximately 20 yards past the intersection when another police radio dispatch was broadcast that a suspect had entered the Texas Theater and was in the balcony. C. F. was almost directly in front of the Texas Theater at the time of this broadcast, and so he pulled into the first parking spot in front of the theater. He was the first squad to arrive there and as he got out of his car another arrived right after him. C. F. entered the front door of the theater with his shotgun and was told by a theater employee that the suspect had gone to the balcony. By this time there was another police officer beside him (name unrecalled) and they both went up the stairs to the balcony. As far as he could see there were 3 to 5 people in the balcony at that time, and he could hear voices saying turn up the house lights, but unfortunately the house lights were already on and it was still very difficult to see. At this time C. F.’s uncle Paul and another detective arrived in the balcony. Paul told C. F. to search everyone in the balcony and to get their names. Just as C. F. began to do this someone downstairs hollered, “The son of a bitch is downstairs!” All the officers turned and exited the balcony, ran down the stairs and turned left into the theater. As C. F. entered the seating area he could see an officer wrestling with a white male who had a pistol in his hand. As he approached Paul Bentley was off to his left. When they reached the two men who were fighting C. F. hit Lee Oswald in the face with a vertical butt stroke of his shotgun. Paul Bentley then punched Lee tearing some of the skin off Lee’s forehead with the Masonic ring that Paul wore on his hand. At this point several additional officers grabbed Lee and then C. F. heard someone shout, “I got his gun!” At this point the officers were able to get Lee under control and while they were handcuffing him C. F. pulled away from the scuffle. As Paul Bentley and other officers were removing the suspect from the front door of the theater C. F. went out with them. The officers then put the suspect in an unmarked police car and departed the scene. C. F. also left the scene, returned to the Southwest Substation, turned in the police car and shotgun, and returned home.

On Sunday, November 24, 1963, C. F. was at work patrolling district 63 when the dispatcher advised him to report code 3 to the basement of City Hall because Lee Oswald had been shot. As C. F. arrived at City Hall an ambulance was pulling out of the basement garage onto Commerce Street. C. F. fell in behind the ambulance and followed it code 3 to Parkland Hospital. At the hospital C. F. took over the employee's elevator and delivered blood from the basement to the operating room. After a while he finally obtained a key to override the employee’s elevator to expedite the blood delivery. At about the third time they delivered blood the medical staff told him to take it back as Lee Oswald had died. Stan Clark asked C. F. why he had not written a report. C. F. explained to us that he was never asked to write a report and there were probably several other officers present at the arrest who did not write a report either.

As we finished the interview C. F. asked if there were any photographs taken in or around the Texas Theater at the time of the arrest because he wanted to see if he was in any of them. I mentioned to him that there were a few photographs and that it might take me a while to get him copies of them. I then asked him if he had a photograph of himself in a Dallas Police uniform from approximately the time of the assassination. C. F. said he would have to look and would definitely get back to me on it. We then thanked him for his hospitality, said our goodbyes, and left.

At this point I would like to tell you about an observation I made during this interview. Even though I have interviewed many people in connection with the Kennedy assassination this interview was quite different. On several occasions I have interviewed witnesses who either refused to be tape-recorded, or if they did agree to be on tape they would tighten up quite dramatically once the tape recorder was turned on as compared to their casual conversation before the tape was started. When I asked C. F. if I could tape the interview he said that would be fine and when the tape recorder was turned on the relaxed and casual manner that he had shown us from the time we entered the house did not change at all.

After generating new information from an interview I try to in some way corroborate the information if possible.

I knew from interviewing Paul Bentley and also from his report of December 3, 1963 (Warren Commission Exhibit 2003, pp. 77-78, reproduced below) that C. F. was definitely at the Texas Theater during the arrest of Lee Oswald. This report mentions that Paul saw C. F. Bentley in the balcony of the Texas Theater in the second to last paragraph on page 1 of the report.