Paul Bentley, 87, Dies; Detective Arrested Oswald
July 25, 2008
His death was confirmed by Gary Mack, curator of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the exhibit that occupies the floor in the former Texas School Book Depository from which Oswald fired his 6.5-millimeter Mannlicher-Carcano rifle at the 35th president.
When Detective Bentley hurtled over several rows in the Texas Theater that day, Nov. 22, 1963, to get to the slim man pointing a pistol at another police officer, he had no idea that the man was Kennedy’s killer.
“At the time of the arrest, I had no knowledge whatsoever that this might possibly be our suspect in regards to the assassination of the president,” Detective Bentley told WFAA-TV in Dallas in a 1963 interview.
But he did know that the man might be a suspect in the shooting of Officer J. D. Tippit, who had been killed half an hour earlier when he confronted Oswald on a nearby street some 45 minutes after Kennedy was shot.
The assistant manager of a shoe store near the theater, in the Oak Cliff section southwest of downtown, had told the ticket taker that a man acting suspiciously had sneaked into the theater.
“The person who saw him suggested that she call the police, because he might be connected to either the shooting of the president or of Officer Tippit,” Mr. Mack said in an interview on Thursday.
Detective Bentley was at a police station when reports arrived that someone had fired on the president’s motorcade and, soon afterward, that an officer had been shot. He went to the site of the Tippit shooting, then to the theater.
“Bentley and several other officers went up to the balcony,” Mr. Mack said. “Officer Nick McDonald went through the back door, behind the screen, and stood on the stage. The shoe store manager was with him and pointed out the guy who had been acting suspiciously. As McDonald approached, Oswald stood up and said, ‘Well, it’s all over now.’ ”
When Officer McDonald came close, Oswald punched him and drew a pistol. Detective Bentley raced down from the balcony.
“That’s when I tried to get as close to him as possible, trying to grab the weapon,” he said in an oral history given to the museum in 1994. “I came over the backs of seats,” twisting his right ankle between two of them, and, along with other officers, subdued Oswald.
Photographs of Oswald in custody show a cut over his eye. It was caused by the Masonic ring Detective Bentley was wearing during the scuffle, about 20 rows back from the movie screen.
Seated in the patrol car to the left of Oswald during the ride downtown, Detective Bentley heard a dispatcher say Oswald was the prime suspect in the Kennedy shooting. “I turned to him, and I said, ‘Did you shoot President Kennedy?’ ” Detective Bentley recalled. “He said, ‘You find out for yourself.’ ”
Paul Lester Bentley was born in Dallas on June 29, 1921. He served in the Army Air Forces in World War II and joined the Dallas police in 1947. He retired from the department in 1968, then became security director for First National Bank in Dallas.
He is survived by his wife of 66 years, the former Mozelle Robertson; a sister, Mildred Waldroop; a son, James; and one grandson.
Two days after the Kennedy assassination, while being escorted through the basement of the Dallas city jail, Oswald was shot to death by Jack Ruby. At Ruby’s left at that moment, memorably captured by cameras, was Detective Jim Leavelle, wearing a light-colored Stetson. Clutching Ruby’s right arm, trying to wrench away his pistol, was Detective L. C. Graves — Detective Bentley’s brother-in-law.