Pollster ‘may have shouted the last words’ at Oswald

The cover of Carroll's book. ()
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ALBANY—He spent decades at The New York Times, covering City Hall and the Capitol before becoming spokesman for the Quinnipiac University Poll. But 50 years ago, Maurice C. Carroll was a young reporter for The New York Herald-Tribune, standing in the crowded basement of Dallas police headquarters, eight feet from Jack Ruby's televised slaying of Lee Harvey Oswald.

“I may have shouted the last words he was ever to hear,” Carroll wrote. “How about it, Lee?”

The 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination has spawned waves of television specials and remembrances in newspapers around the world. “Frontline” aired a two-hour segment on Oswald's life, and CBS, on Saturday, broadcast a prime time “As it Happened” featuring Bob Schieffer, who in 1963 scored a big break as the first reporter to interview Marina Oswald, the shooter's wife, as he drove with her from Fort Worth to Dallas.

Carroll—whose universally accepted nickname is Mickey—was dispatched to Texas on Friday to support columnist Jimmy Breslin and veteran reporter Bob Byrd. Breslin was working on a piece about Kennedy's final moments at Parkland Memorial Hospital, and Carroll was to feed details to Byrd.

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But when Oswald was shot, editors asked Carroll to write a first-person piece recounting his on-the-scene experience. Later, Carroll recalled, they realized they had forgotten to assign another writer to draft a main article. The result was a front-page report with Carroll's byline that starts as hard news (cleanly written through by colleague Larry Shapiro, Carroll recalled) and then turns to Carroll's personal observations.

“The prisoner, hands cuffed in front of him, was led into the cavernous garage under the station. Seconds before the shot, I shouted, 'How about it, Lee?'

“There was no answer from Oswald as he was hustled forward by Detectives Jim Lavell and B.H. Combest to a sedan that was backing into position to pick him up.

“Suddenly, a form flashed past UPI photographer Frank Johnston in the front row, Detective Combest, a vice squad member, recognized Ruby and saw Ruby pulling the .38 caliber from a jacket pocket.

“ 'Jack, you son of a bitch,' the detective yelled.

“The slight smile on Oswald's face vanished and his mouth opened. There was a 'pop' kind of sound, and a cry of anguish from Oswald as his manacled hands clutched at his abdomen. He slumped, but was supported by one of his guards before he could hit the ground.”

Carroll said he never read the story—the paper didn't come to Dallas and by the time he returned to New York it had been swallowed in the news cycle—and despite Shapiro's clean write-through, when presented with the text this week, he deemed the combination of first-person and straight reporting to be “puerile.”

And while he wrote a self-published book about the secondary shooting, Carroll looks back at it as just another day on the job.

“When you're a reporter, you're there at different things. And then it was over with, and I went back to reporting the news. In a way, it just seems peculiar to be all of a sudden talking about something that happened, briefly, and momentarily, fifty years ago,” he said.

The book, he said, is in part to quell the “torrent” of conspiracy theories about the assassinations, and its title references the short time between Ruby wiring money to one of the dancers in his club and firing into Oswald's chest.

“Four minutes. Some conspiracy,” Carroll said. “The problem is, instantly, when the assassin is murdered in police headquarters, people say it doesn't add up. But as we reported over and over –it's not a conspiracy, just a deranged  warehouse clerk kills the president, and then an emotional dummy who runs a strip joint, walks into police headquarters, and shoots him.”

 

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