Skip to main content

Special Agent in Charge Forrest Sorrels

Who Was He?

Forrest V. Sorrels Portrait

Forrest Vernon Sorrels was born in Red River County, Texas on September 16, 1901. He grew up on a farm until his family moved to El Paso, Texas where he resided from 1916 to 1935. He began working for the United States Secret Service on July 6, 1923, as a clerk in the El Paso office. Shortly after, Sorrels began to assist with investigative work and in 1926, he was appointed as an operative. Later that same year, the agent in charge was transferred, so Sorrels took over the position until 1935. He was then transferred to Dallas as special agent in charge but was transferred again to New Orleans the following year as acting supervising agent of a newly created joint headquarters for Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This headquarters office was then moved to Houston in 1938 and Dallas in 1941, with Sorrels moving with it each time. The headquarter's organization was then disbanded, and the supervising officers were relocated to local offices or to Washington, DC. Forrest Sorrels was placed as Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas district where he continued through to the time of JFK's assassination in 1963. 

Three Big Roles around the Assassination 

Before JFK's Arrival - Planning the Route

On November 4, 1963, the Dallas Secret Service office was notified of President Kennedy's trip to Dallas, Texas later that month. As Special Agent in Charge, Forrest Sorrels had to work closely with DC Secret Service and Dallas Police to begin planning for the trip. After announcing on November 16 that there would be a presidential motorcade through the city of Dallas, Sorrels became heavily involved in the planning of the route for the motorcade. By November 21, 1963, at 8:00 a.m., the route had been published in the "Dallas Morning News."

JFK Motorcade Route

The motorcade route as published in the "Dallas Morning News"

Forrest Sorrels SNA

Many of the people included in Forrest Sorrels' Social Network were also involved in planning the route for the presidential motorcade. He and Special Agent Winston Lawson worked with officials from the US Air Force, Love Field employees, Dallas police officers, and White House detail. 

During the Visit - Riding in the Lead Car

Presidential Motorcade Photo Lead Car Diagram

The lead car of the presidential motorcade was the third car within the motorcade behind the advance and pilot car. It drove directly in front of the presidential limo which was carrying President Kennedy. This lead car contained four officers, two Secret Service agents and two officers from the Dallas Police Department. This car was provided by the DPD and acted as additional security for the presidential limo.

Driving the car was Chief of Police, Jesse E. Curry. In the passenger seat was Secret Service Special Agent Winston Lawson, who had worked with Sorrels to plan the route. Behind the driver seat was DC Sheriff "Bill" Decker. Finally, in the back passenger seat was SAIC Forrest Sorrels.

When the president was shot, the presidential limo attempted to radio the lead car, but there was an error with the radios. When the motorcade exited to the freeway towards Parkland hospital, the presidential limo passed the lead car which continued to follow it all the way to the hospital. 

After the Assassination - Developing the Zapruder Film

Black and white photograph of WFAA-TV news studio the day of the assassination

SAIC Sorrels and Abraham Zapruder are surrounded by officers and media at the WFAA-TV station while attempting to have the Zapruder film developed. 

Immediately after the shooting, Abraham Zapruder, who filmed the infamous Zapruder Film, was approached by news reporter Harry McCormick of the Dallas Morning News. McCormick saw Zapruder with a camera and asked if he had caught the shooting on film. Zapruder refused to hand over the film to anyone except the authorities, so McCormick found SAIC Sorrels and met Zapruder at his business shortly after. Two Dallas police officers escorted Zapruder, Sorrels, and McCormick to the Dallas Morning News to attempt to have the film developed. However, the WFAA-TV station was not equipped to handle the type of film Zapruder used, so they told Sorrels to take the film straight to Kodak. 

When Sorrels attempted to contact the Kodak lab near Love Field, the employees were in shock from the news of the shooting and no one answered the phone. Eventually they reached Jack Harrison, the supervisor on duty, on the labs emergency line. Sorrels emphasized the urgency of the situation, saying "We want to have you to process our film. We want you to shut your machines down and process the film we have here. There'll be a lot of us, and no other film is to be run."

While Sorrels and Zapruder went with their police escort to the Kodak lab, they could see Air Force One taking off and heading back to Washington with the presidential casket and the newly, sworn-in President Johnson in tow. 

Investigating Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby

In the afternoon of November 22, 1963, Special Agent in Charge Sorrels was called to the Dallas Police Department because they had Lee Harvey Oswald in custody. In his Warren Commission testimony, he described being escorted through the media to a secure area in Captain Fritz's office where they were holding Oswald. Sorrels asked Fritz to question Oswald, which he was allowed to do. According to Sorrels, the interview was short and Oswald did not tell Sorrels any meaningful information for the investigation. 

Screenshot of Sorrels testimony

Sorrels had the opportunity to again question Oswald on the morning of November 24, prior to the transfer of Oswald. The newspapers had been reporting that Oswald was to be moved at 10:00 am that morning, but Sorrels said he suggested to the police department to wait and move him in the middle of the night when there was no press around.

"When I heard that they were supposed to take him out at 10 o'clock--that was the announcement and so forth on the radio and in the papers--I remarked to Captain Fritz that if I were he, I would not remove Oswald from the city hall or city jail to the county jail at an announced time; that I would take him out at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning when there was no one around. The importance of the prisoner, to my mind, was such that in order to remove the opportunity for some crackpot or anyone who might feel inclined to try to kill the prisoner, if the removal was made more or less unannounced or in secret, that those opportunities would have been at least lessened to a great degree. Captain Fritz said that Chief Curry wanted to go along with the press and not try to put anything over on them. He did not want to tell them one thing, or in other words, move him out without the press being aware of the fact--let's put it that way. That was my impression. "-SAIC Forrest Sorrels, Warren Commission 

After interviewing Oswald, Sorrels went to Chief Batchelor's office on the third floor of the DPD. They did not find out about Oswald being shot in the basement until a few minutes after the incident. Sorrels immediately took an elevator to the basement where he reported seeing Oswald lying on the floor with someone over him attempting to give artificial respiration by hand. 

Unlike many of the Dallas Police officers, Sorrels did not know Jack Ruby and even reported to his station that a Jack Rubin had shot Oswald because he did not correctly hear the unfamiliar name. After calling in the shooting, Sorrels returned to Captain Fritz's office on the third floor to find out where they were holding Ruby. He was escorted by a detective in the office up to the fifth floor where he then interviewed Ruby. 

Screenshot of Sorrels testimony 2

Sorrels described his first interview of Jack Ruby for the Warren Commission

Sorrels also interviewed Ruby later that afternoon for more clarification before reporting to Secret Service headquarters in Washington. He summarized his purpose with Ruby in the Warren Commission as having dealt only with matters related to his duties with the Secret Service. 

"My purpose in getting to Jack Ruby and talking to him as quickly as I did was to determine whether or not he was involved with anyone else in connection with the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, and also to determine whether or not Jack Ruby had any connection or association with Lee Harvey Oswald. I did not warn him of his constitutional rights, because insofar as I was concerned at this particular interview, my conversation with him had no bearing insofar as the murder case against Jack Ruby was concerned.My purpose was trying to obtain information for my service to determine whether or not there were others involved in this case that would be of concern to the Secret Service in connection with their protective duties of the President of the United States and the Vice President." - SAIC Forrest Sorrels, Warren Commission

A Quiet Life

Sorrels Retired

After the initial investigation, Forrest Sorrels returned to his normal life in Dallas. He was called in to testify for the Warren Commission, but seemingly moved on from the incidents of the assassination after that. He continued to work as Special Agent in Charge at the Dallas Secret Service until he retired in 1969. Sorrels lived a quiet life in Dallas from then until his death in 1993 at the age of 92. Other than the depiction of Sorrels as a main character in the 2013 movie Parkland, he was not in the media at all in his later years. 

Bibliography

Sorrels, Forrest V. Accessed April 22, 2018. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7461183.
Testimony Of Forrest V. Sorrels. Accessed April 22, 2018.
"Forrest V. Sorrels." Tribunedigital-orlandosentinel. November 12, 1993. Accessed April 22, 2018. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1993-11-12/news/9311120252_1_sorrels-secret-service-president-kennedy.
"Forrest Vernon Sorrels (1901-1993)." Find A Grave. Accessed April 22, 2018.
Palamara, Vince. "Secret Service History: Through The Decades." FORREST SORRELS. January 01, 1970. Accessed April 22, 2018. http://secretservicehistory.blogspot.com/2013/08/forrest-sorrels.html.
Pasternack, Alex. "The Saddest and Most Expensive Home Movie Ever Made: On Zapruder's JFK Assassination Film." The Huffington Post. December 07, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-pasternack/jfk-assassination_b_2185569.html.
Zapruder, Alexandra. "The True Story of the 26 Seconds That Changed History." Town & Country. October 08, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2018. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/politics/a8812/zapruder-film/.
Special Agent in Charge Forrest Sorrels