Seldom-heard police recordings tell story of JFK assassination

(CBS News) DALLAS -- You will be hearing a lot about the assassination of President Kennedy as we approach the 50th anniversary next week. But CBS News has something you haven't heard before: the University of Virginia has given CBS access to newly enhanced Dallas police recordings that tell the story of that day, from beginning to end.

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The police recordings tell the story of the day President John F. Kennedy was shot from beginning to end.

Sergeant: "Air Force One is coming into its final approach."

Between the hisses and the crackles, the story of that fateful day is captured on primitive dictabelt recordings from the Dallas Police Department.

"Approaching downtown Dallas now."

"It's kind of a soundtrack that points to the silent films that we're all used to seeing of the crowds in Dallas and then the tragedy in Dealey Plaza," says Larry Sabato, the author of "The Kennedy Half Century."

Crowds, a dozen rows deep, were eager to see the young, stylish first couple.

Deputy Police Chief: "The crowd on Main Street's in real good shape. They got them back off on the curb."

At about 12:30 p.m., as the president's limousine turned onto Elm Street, the police chatter turned from routine to urgent.

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Larry Sabato
CBS News
 

Police Chief: "It looks like the president has been hit. Have Parkland stand by."

Dispatcher: "10-4. Parkland has been notified."

Sirens can be heard as the motorcade races the four miles to Parkland Hospital.

Patrolman: "I believe the president's head was practically blown off."

It was the first real assessment of just how seriously the president had been hurt.

Back at Dealey Plaza, the search for whoever killed the president and wounded Texas Gov. John Connally focused on a seven-story brick building.

Dispatcher: "Get the men up there to cover this Texas School Book Depository. Believe the shots came from that..."

Dispatcher: "Attention all squads. The suspect from Elm and Houston is reported to be an unknown white male about 30, slender build, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 165 lbs., armed with what is thought to be a 30-30 rifle. No further description at this time or information."

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The suspect turned out to be Lee Harvey Oswald. He had taken a bus and a cab to his rooming house, picked up a jacket and a pistol, then headed out again.

As he was walking down the street, police officer J.D. Tippit called him over to his police car. Oswald shot him at point-blank range.

"It was -- it was a horrible act," Sabato says. "And certainly not the act of an innocent person."

Now Oswald was wanted for two murders. He was on the run. But not for long.

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The Dallas Police Department's dictabelt recordings captured the story of Nov. 22, 1963.

Dispatcher: "I have information that a suspect just went in the Texas Theater on West Jefferson."

Patrolman: "10-4."

Dispatcher: "He's supposed to be hiding in the balcony."

The police found him sitting in the rear of the theater.

Sergeant: "The suspect has been apprehended at Texas Theater and en route to station."

Aboard Air Force One, still on the ground in Dallas, another drama was unfolding.

Dispatcher: "We have information now that Judge Sarah Hughes is leaving Parkland en route to Love Field to swear President Johnson in."

With Jackie Kennedy at his side, Lyndon Baines Johnson took the oath as the 36th President of the United States. And Air Force One, now carrying two presidents, took off for Washington, D.C.

Patrolman: "We don't need anything else out here. We don't need an ambulance or anything. It's just a matter of cleaning up now."

They cleaned up the scene but could never erase the painful memories, preserved forever on the Dallas police recordings of Nov. 22, 1963.

To listen to the Dallas Police Department dictabelt recordings, download The Kennedy Half Century app on iTunes or Android.

  • Bob Schieffer On Twitter»

    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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