CORSICANA, Texas — Detective Elmer "Sonny" Boyd was doing a last security sweep through the Dallas Trade Mart, where President John F. Kennedy was scheduled to speak, when he and his partner got word of an incident involving the president's motorcade.
The Dallas police homicide detective rushed to Parkland Hospital, where the wounded president had been taken and was pronounced dead. There he and his partner were ordered back downtown, to the School Book Depository, where witnesses said they'd seen gunshots fired at Kennedy.
Boyd was searching the seventh floor when someone found bullet shell casings near a window one floor below. The investigation was unfolding when Boyd learned a friend, Officer J.D. Tippit, had been shot in a confrontation with Lee Harvey Oswald.
“We’d been partners for years,” said Boyd. “Our kids played together. We were close.”
“Oswald shot him across the hood of his car,” before fleeing on foot, said Boyd, adding that Tippit was the reason police nabbed Oswald as quickly as they did. “He was the real hero."
Boyd's memories of the events surrounding Kennedy's death have made him popular, especially as the 50th anniversary of the assassination has neared. This week Boyd attended a reception in the old Book Depository - in what is now called the Sixth-Floor Museum - as well as a showing of the documentary, "Catching Oswald," in which he appears.
Boyd eventually spent 27 with the Dallas police before retiring in 1978, then joining the Euless, Texas, Police for 10 years. After that he returned to Blooming Grove, where he grew up about 50 miles south of Dallas, with his wife of 63 years.
On Tuesday, Boyd, now 86, spoke to high school students in his hometown describing some of the aftermath of Kennedy's death.
Boyd had a front seat to history. He and his partner, Detective Richard Sims, were assigned to escort Oswald to line-ups and interrogation sessions with local police and the Secret Service.
Oswald was unnaturally cool, said Boyd.
“He was as calm as anybody I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’ve never understood how a man could do everything he’d done and be so calm.”
Oswald got angry a couple of times during questioning - when an FBI agent contorted him, and when talked about Gov. John Connally, who also had been shot.
“He said, ‘They tried to make a patsy out of me,’ ” said Boyd. “He was a cool guy. He wasn’t a dummy. He’d talk. He just wouldn’t talk about anything anybody wanted to hear.
“He’d talk about everything except the shooting of the president and Officer Tippit,” said Boyd.
To this day, Boyd said he doesn't believe anyone else was involved in Kennedy's assassination. He's never bought into conspiracy theories, though he’s read many accounts that he knows are nonsense.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Lee Harvey Oswald killed our president and J.D. Tippit," he said.
Boyd said some of those theories were stoked by the fact that the Medical examiner in Washington, D.C., who was less experienced than Dallas' head pathologist, performed Kennedy's autopsy.
"It should have been ours,” he said. “We should have kept the body here.”
Boyd was off-duty the morning of Nov. 24, two days after Kennedy's assassination, when nightclub owner Jack Ruby approached Oswald as he was being transferred through the basement of the police station, shot and killed him.
"The only time I wasn’t with him was the morning he got shot," he said.
Ruby had liked police officers and had been friends with Boyd's partner, Sims. The night Kennedy was killed, Ruby had called Sims to offer sandwiches to the police on duty. Sims refused and Ruby instead ended up feeding the journalists gathered at the station.
Boyd remembered the police interrogation of Ruby.
“I think the first thing he said was, ‘Mr. Sims, are y’all mad at me? … I think he thought he’d be a big hero.”
Janet Jacobs writes for the Corsicana, Texas, Daily Sun.