Temple F. Bowley's life changed forever when he came upon a Dallas police officer lying dead in a street on Nov. 22, 1963.
DALLAS — Temple F. Bowley’s life changed forever when he came upon a Dallas police officer lying dead in the street on Nov. 22, 1963.
“You don’t run up on a dead man every day,” Bowley said.
J.D. Tippit was the dead officer. His killer was Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy 45 minutes earlier.
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Bowley was on the way to pick up his wife from work when he discovered Tippit’s body face down in the middle of East 10th Street in the suburb of Oak Cliff. He climbed into the officer’s car and used the police radio to report the shooting.
Officers poured into Oak Cliff and quickly arrested Oswald at the Texas Theatre.
On Monday, 47 years after the most chaotic day in Dallas history, Bowley will be recognized for the small role he played in it. Dallas Police Chief David Brown will welcome Bowley into his office and present him with a Citizen’s Certificate of Merit.
“I don’t deserve the recognition,” said Bowley, now an 82-year-old retiree. “It was just the thing to do. The radio was there and it was connected to the Police Department, and that’s who I needed to talk to.”
The story of Bowley’s connection to the JFK assassination saga ends with Tippit’s murder. But that’s not where it begins.
Bowley had spent several years in the 1950s moonlighting as a doorman for Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby, who made history when he shot Oswald to death on live television two days after the Kennedy assassination.
“I knew Jack well, but half the people in Dallas knew Jack,” he said. “He was a tough little cookie, but he would give you the shirt off his back.”
In 1963, Bowley’s main job was supervising a crew of telephone installers for Western Electric, which manufactured communications equipment.
On Friday, Nov. 22, he and his family were about to head to San Antonio for vacation. He planned to go deer hunting in South Texas and was carrying three rifles in the back of his 1961 Pontiac Tempest station wagon.
First, he picked up his 12-year-old daughter, Kathy, from school. Then, he headed to pick up his wife at her office in Oak Cliff.
The car radio crackled with news about shots fired at the presidential motorcade as it passed through Dealey Plaza, on the western edge of downtown Dallas. Kennedy was dead, the reports said.
Bowley was nearing his wife’s office when he saw Tippit’s parked car pointed toward him — the driver’s door wide open and the officer’s body lying next to the driver’s-side front tire.
“I stopped maybe 30 to 50 yards away and told Kathy to stay in the car,” he said.
Oswald was long gone by then. But Domingo Benavides had seen the shooting a couple of minutes earlier and remained at the scene.
As Bowley approached Tippit’s car, he instinctively knew the officer was dead. Later, an autopsy found four gunshot wounds — three in the chest and a kill shot in the right temple.
Benavides was in the patrol car, frantically trying to call for help on the police radio. Instead of running to a nearby house to use a landline, Bowley saved precious minutes by taking control of the radio immediately.
“He couldn’t figure out how to key the mike,” Bowley said. “I was familiar with the equipment, so I took it and made the call.”
When police arrived at the Tippit murder scene, Bowley told them what he had seen and what he had done. Officers took his information and sent him on his way, saying he could be interviewed in depth later.
But Bowley didn’t head to San Antonio immediately. He heard police sirens screaming and drove west on Jefferson Boulevard to investigate.
“I wanted to see what was going on like any other nosy person,” he said.
The commotion in front of the Texas Theatre drew his attention. He parked and got out of his car just in time to see officers bringing the handcuffed Oswald out of the theater.
“I just caught a glimpse of them putting him in the squad car,” Bowley said.
When you add it all up, what significance can historians place on Bowley’s role in the assassination story? A life of 82 years consists of 29,930 days, or 718,320 hours. He spent 30 minutes of that life dealing with the Tippit murder on Nov. 22, 1963. And, yet, in some way, it has dominated everything else.
“I’m just damn tired of it,” he said.
Farris Rookstool III, a former analyst for the FBI and a self-described expert on the Kennedy assassination, campaigned for more than a year to get the Dallas Police Department to award Bowley its Citizen’s Certificate of Merit.
Rookstool characterizes the Tippit murder as “the Rosetta stone” that tied Oswald to the Kennedy assassination.
“The whole component of Bowley getting on the radio is what got the police headed in that direction and allowed them to close in on Oswald quickly,” Rookstool said.
“His role is huge, in my opinion. And it’s the right thing to do to honor him.”