Gerald Lynn Hill: An Omnipresent Officer's Vivid Accounts
Gerald Lynn Hill, personally known as Jerry, was perhaps the most omnipresent of all the Dallas Police Department officers involved at the scene of Lee Harvey Oswald's arrest. An officer with the Department since 1955, Hill had left behind a career working in print, radio, and television media in Dallas, only to find his way back into the media as a subject and a witness. Through these media appearances and the richness of his lengthy Warren Commission folder (clocking in at 104 pages), Hill gave a great deal of insight into the events of November 22, 1963, acting as a witness through describing his own active participation.
Hill is particularly notable for having been present for seemingly every turn of events on that day, making his testimony particularly insightful. Hill was there when the police discovered that the sixth floor of the Texas School Book depository was the site of the so-called "Sniper's Nest," was called to the scene to investigate J.D. Tippit's murder, and had custody of Oswald's .38 pistol immediately following the arrest at the Texas Theater. This ominpresence and impaccable timing makes Hill's ability to testify all the more important; nevertheless, to those more inclined to view the Warren Commission's record with skepticism, Hill's vivid testimony - as well as some of that testimony's inconsistencies with others - begs more questions than it answers.
From this social network analysis graphic made in Palladio, it's apparent that Hill was just about everywhere on the day of the President's and J.D. Tippit's assassinations. With Hill centered in the graphic, a few definitive "clusters" of connections representing different moments in the day are visible. These include the other arresting officers and Lee Harvey Oswald to Hill's left, and those who came with Hill to the scene at the Texas School Book Depository on the far center-right.
On the Scene From the Beginning: Hill at the TSBD
On November 22, 1963, Gerald Hill started his day in the personnel office at the Dallas Police Department headquarters, dressed in plainclothes for the day. He was sifting through applications to the police academy, having no assignment related to President Kennedy's visit. All of this changed in the blink of an eye after he watched the assassination from the personnel room's window; according to his testimony, he got permission from Captain Westbrook to go to the scene of the Texas School Book Depository, bringing along with him officers Joe Field and Jim Valentine and a reporter from the Dallas Morning News, Jim E. Well.
When he arrived at the scene, he stated that he caught up with Captain Fritz and a variety of other officers; entering the building, he and two sheriff's deputies, Boone and Mooney, worked from the top down, while Fritz and his men worked from the bottom up searching for evidence. After checking the seventh floor and finding nothing, Hill said that someone shouted "Here it is!" upon finding a stack of boxes by a window, and he went on to find three spent shells on the floor. This finding prompted him to go to the window and shout for someone from the Crime Lab - resulting in the photo to the top right. By the time he made it down to street level, someone from the Crime Lab had arrived, and Hill would soon be on his way to the next scene: the scene of Officer J.D. Tippit's murder.
From the Tippit Scene to the Texas Theater
Hill's Warren Commission testimony is incredibly detailed on the events following Officer J.D. Tippit's murder. Hill received the radio announcement outside of the Texas School Book Depository and rushed to the scene at the 400 block of East Jefferson. After a number of false starts and searches for the suspect, he received a radio message that Oswald was in the Texas Theater around 1:55 pm.
In the theater, Hill initially ran to the balcony, only to run downstairs when someone announced that they had Oswald. He saw his fellow officers "struggling with a white male" near the back of the theater, ran over, and grabbed Oswald's left arm. Ultimately, after a struggle, he and Hawkins used Hawkins' handcuffs to cuff the suspect.
Moving down the aisle to exit the theater, Hill stayed to Oswald's left rear. He described seeing media for the first time once they made it to the lobby, and claimed that the crowd outside was chanting “We ought to kill him. String him up. Hang him…”
Once the officers made it to the squad car, Hill claimed that he entered through the drivers side, with Carroll, the driver of the car, following closely behind; Carroll handed him the snub-nosed pistol that was on Oswald's person as he entered. Hill would go on to scratch his last name into the pistol grip for evidence. As soon as he got the gun, he broke it open to see if there were any rounds inside; he would later mark these rounds when he got to the police station ,much as he had marked the gun. Both the gun and the rounds remained firmly in Hill's possession until the officers reached the station, and for a bit afterwards. Belin asked Hill extensively about both the gun and the rounds throughout Hill's deposition, right down to asking him to describe every single bullet after displaying them.
Once the officers finally had arrived back at City Hall, they were surrounded by a swarm of reporters on all sides. Hill described them all taking Oswald to the Homicide and Robbery office's interrogation room and, standing in the doorway, being asked to show reporters the gun, waving it in the air for them. One of the most uncanny moments in Hill's whole testimony occurs here: he claimed that Captain Fritz walked up to Officers Stovall and Rose and told them to look for Oswald at his Irving address, only for Hill to let him know that Oswald was already there.
The brief interview above was conducted at the Dallas Police headquarters very shortly after the series of events. By the time Hill left, he said that there were about 70 or 80 reporters there, stating that “you had to drag your way through TV cables and bodies of people, seesawing your course to get through there."
An Officer's Testimonies: A Former Media Man's Insight and Interactions
Two of the most interesting files in Hill's Warren Commission folder are a transcription of an interview he granted to Bob Whitten, a radio manager from Sacramento, California, the afternoon of the assassination, and an FBI document pertaining to said interview. It's not surprising that Hill was so willing to speak to the media the day of Oswald's arrest, considering his past career before moving into policing: in his Warren Commission deposition, he talks about working with the Dallas Times Herald and Fort Worth's WPAB TV before joining the police academy, covering policing stories at both outlets. According to the FBI document concerning the interview, Hill had previously known Whitten from when Whitten worked in Dallas radio years before. This connection helped preserve his memories while they were incredibly fresh: the interview was aired in Sacramento at 6:45 pm, mere hours after the day's occurrences.
Hill's interview is a goldmine of observations about Lee Harvey Oswald. He painted a portrait of an incredibly arrogant suspect, pointing to an incident in which, when the officers told Oswald he could keep his head down heading towards the police station, Oswald protested that he had no reason to do so, as he had nothing to be ashamed of. His recollection of Oswald also included the suspect jumping up and saying "this is it" when the officers found him, hitting Officer MacDonald in the face during the arrest tussle, shouting about police brutality and knowing his rights, and refusing to say anything other than that he is a communist.
One statement made by Hill in this interview was of particular interest both to the FBI and to the Warren Commission, and comes up multiple times in his folder; this is Hill's claim that "The man, I understand, has resorted to violence before and possibly shot another policeman somewhere." When pressed on the matter, Hill claimed that this was hearsay and that he wasn't quite sure who had told him that, and that he could not verify it. All in all, it's an incredibly interesting interview, and the fact that Hill's media appearances made their way into his KP folder is notable.
Hill's Legacy as Participant and Witness: Conspiracy Fodder?
For the historian and the interested layman, the fact that Hill was present nearly every step of the way throughout November 22, 1963 makes his testimony and his media appearances an incredibly valuable resource. Indeed, his Warren Commission essentially gives one relatively holistic narrative of the entire day's events, from his watching the President's assassination from the personnel office window to racing to the Tippit murder scene to the Theater arrest and beyond.
Nevertheless, taking into account the imperfections of the human brain, it seems reasonable to expect some discrepancies between Hill's testimony and that of others, including other arresting officers like Bob Carroll. For some, however, the fact that Hill was literally everywhere and with a story for everything despite not even initially being assigned to deal with the President's visit raises major suspicions. While one might consider some discrepancies normal for recalling detailed specifics of an event several months after the fact, conspiracy theorists have latched onto Hill's testimony the most out of any arresting officer's to claim that Oswald was framed.
If you google search Gerald Hill, one of the first links to come up is to a conspiracy blog accusing Hill explicitly of framing Lee Harvey Oswald; this is just one of many sources devoted to highlighting Hill's supposedly sketchy behavior, as he seems to be a common scapegoat for plotting. On the topic of Hill's entry to the sixth floor, for example ,the author specifically disputes Hill's claim that he entered the building with sheriff's deputy Luke Mooney. This is because Mooney both reported to the Sheriff and testified to the Warren Commission that he entered through the rear and took a freight elevator to the second floor, as opposed to taking a passenger elevator and walking to the seventh. He also disputes Hill's testimony about the other sheriff's deputy, Boone, who testified that he went to the sixth floor after Mooney found bullet casings, as opposed to them all three being there at the same time. It's at this point that the author uses these discrepancies to accuse Belin of "covering up for Hill's lie!" because of his failure to cross-examine Hill on the matter.
The conspiracy author goes on to plainly accuse Hill of framing Oswald within the context of the Theater Arrest. To make this claim, he uses Ray Hawkins' testimony against Hill: Hawkins had claimed that Hill said "I've got the gun" and left the theater with it. The purported conspiracy continued on past the actual events of the assassination, as the author hints that Hill may have even been telling Officer MacDonald what to say to the press in the 1970s. Ultimately, it is evident that the sheer amount of events Hill discussed and was involved in has been a source of information for many, whether they view the officer positively or negatively.
Conclusion: Tying Together Hill's Legacy
Following the Kennedy and Tippit assassinations, Gerald Hill stayed on with the Dallas Police Department until 1979, following a 24-year tenure. During his time at the department, he at times served as both the Treasurer and Secretary of the Dallas Police Assocation union. After his retirement, he made a somewhat unexpected career switch after years of covering and doing policework and opened his own tax consulting business, which he ran for forty years.
Well after the years immediately following the President's assassination, Hill continued to willingly give interviews like the ones linked above to the media and to private researchers - even those who personally found Hill suspicious. His wife, Bobbye, said of him: “He was interviewed forever; every once in a while, we still get a phone call...“He never believed in a conspiracy. He was kind about it. He understood people had a right to think what they wanted to.” Notably, however, Hill did have his own ideas about the motivations behind Jack Ruby's shooting of Oswald: having known Ruby for years like many other officers, he said, "I think his calculating mind was going all the time on the assumption that 'I'll shoot Oswald. Public sentiment will get me off, and then I'll make a million bucks because everybody'll come to see the man that killed the man that killed the President!'"
Ultimately, Hill's direct insight as a result of actively participating in policing the assassination at every turn, coupled with his willingness to share what he witnessed with others, has left an indelible mark on the collective memory regarding the Kennedy assassination.
"Gerald Hill." Dallas News. August 10, 2011. http://obits.dallasnews.com/obituaries/dallasmorningnews/obituary.aspx?n=gerald-hill&pid=153027526.
Simnacher, Joe. "Jerry Hill, Dallas officer who found JFK evidence and handcuffed Oswald, dies at 81." Dallas News. August 9, 2011. https://www.dallasnews.com/news/news/2011/08/09/jerry-hill-dallas-officer-who-found-jfk-evidence-and-handcuffed-oswald-dies-at-81-.
Reitzes, David. "Who Was Jack Ruby?" jfk-online.com. 2001. http://www.jfk-online.com/jfk100whoruby.html.