by MATTHEW WATKINS / Dallas Morning News
Bobby Hargis, a former Dallas police officer whose motorcycle flanked John F. Kennedy’s limousine at the moment the president was assassinated, died Friday in Cleburne. He was 81.
Hargis died of congestive heart failure after a long illness. His longtime friend, Michael Brownlow, announced the death. Funeral services are pending.
Hargis was just a few feet behind Kennedy when shots rang out in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963. The president’s blood splashed the young officer’s face and uniform. Ever since, Hargis has been a source of fascination to conspiracy buffs and others interested in the assassination.
The officer had worked for the Dallas Police Department for about nine years when Kennedy visited. He was one of four motorcyclists assigned to accompany the president’s motorcade through downtown.
Years later, Hargis recalled feeling a sense of dread as he followed Kennedy past hordes of cheering onlookers. But he began to relax as the motorcade reached the end of downtown and prepared to turn onto Elm Street.
“I thought, ‘Well, we’ve got it made now,’” he told The Dallas Morning News in 2003. “And then bam! It happens.”
Months after the assassination, Hargis told an investigator for the Warren Commission that he heard a gunshot and saw a look of terror on the face of Texas Gov. John Connally, who was in the car with Kennedy. Hargis saw the president lean forward, but he thought Kennedy was simply trying to hear something that Connally, who was also wounded in the shooting, was trying to say.
“When President Kennedy straightened back up in the car, the bullet hit him in the head — the one that killed him — and it seemed like his head exploded,” Hargis told the commission. “And I was splattered with blood and brain.”
The limousine sped off, but Hargis stayed behind. He said he parked on the east side of Elm Street and ran up what is now known as the grassy knoll. Then, he jumped back on his motorcycle to search for anyone who may have been fleeing the scene.
Finally, he returned to the Texas School Book Depository, where investigators later determined that Lee Harvey Oswald had fired the fatal shots. Hargis stood guard there until he was relieved from duty.
Hargis told the Warren Commission he had no idea during those first few minutes where the shots originated. But the way he reacted and the fact that he had been spattered with blood fueled conspiracy theories for years. Many took it as evidence that there had been another shooter, perhaps on the grassy knoll.
Hargis rarely talked about the day of the assassination, said Danny Davis, a friend and former roommate.
“He was a very quiet man, and I don’t ever remember him ever mentioning it, other than the fact that he was to the left of the motorcade,” said Davis, a retired Dallas police lieutenant. “It wasn’t his personality type. If you asked him about it, he might talk about it. But, other than that, he didn’t bring it up himself.”
But Hargis regularly heard from conspiracy theorists, journalists and historians who wanted to hear his story. He’d often comply, though he told The News in 1995 that he didn’t buy the conspiracy theories.
The Rio Vista native remained a police officer for more than 35 years after Kennedy’s death. Two years after the assassination, he was run over by a car while on his patrol motorcycle.
Doctors wanted to amputate his leg, Brownlow said, but Hargis wouldn’t let them. He was forced to take medical leave for about six years. After that, he returned to the force and mostly stayed in administrative jobs.
“He loved his job and did it with honor and respect,” Brownlow said.
Survivors include his wife, Lena, two sons, Richard Hargis and Spencer Hargis; and two daughters, Victoria Brown and Catherine Hargis.
Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Crosier-Pearson Cleburne Funeral Home, 512 N. Ridgeway Drive in Cleburne. A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the funeral home.