Fran Cason, 76, of Castle Rock, ordered the ambulance for Lee Harvey Oswald after he was shot by Jack Ruby.
Cason remembers 50 years ago sitting at her desk in the dispatch office of the Dallas Police Department when the jail clerk, Officer Slack, called from the basement to urgently request an ambulance because “Oswald had been shot.”
Cason doesn’t remember being fazed by it — “We were so well-trained” — and she hit the toggle switch that immediately connected her to the ambulance company and ordered a “white ambulance.” That was the policy then, white for white people, black ambulance for blacks, she said, shaking her head at the memory.
She also quickly let officers know of the request over the public address system, because it was an emergency, and she also did what she did for every call: Hand-wrote the type of call it was on a 3-by-5 card, stamped it in a machine that put the time on it, 11:21 a.m., and put it on the conveyor belt that took it from the dispatcher’s room past the glass partition and into where two officers would then dispatch, if needed, the next available car.
There were no computers then in the small dispatchers’ room, not even typewriters, because there was no time for that. Just hand-write what had occurred and get it on the conveyor belt. She remembers that the police department, even in 1963, was extremely busy, especially on Fridays and Saturdays — shootings, stabbings and robberies and such.
But the Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 23 and 24, that she worked, went beyond bedlam, she said. President John F. Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, and his accused killer, Oswald, was shot on Nov. 24.
Cason, born and raised in Dallas, was interested in becoming a writer, but no one ever talked to her or friends about college. They assumed they’d get married and have children. She married her high school sweetheart at age 18, Jim Cason, who entered the U.S. Navy. They moved a bit but came back to their hometown.
She did secretarial work and after having children she still worked out of necessity, while her mom and various babysitters watched the two kids. In 1960, she got on with the police department, first as a phone clerk/typist who would type out police reports as the officers recited information by phone or in person. Later she moved to the third-floor dispatch office, taking calls from the public.
One time an officer called her to request a “fire truck.” That’s what she heard anyway. He was requesting a “tire truck,” because he had a flat and police cars didn’t carry spares. So after the fire truck arrived, the officer called back saying, “Mrs. Cason, the fire department is (here) willing to work with the police department (but) they refuse to change our flat.”
She also remembers a particularly busy weekend night when someone called three times requesting an officer because someone had stolen his hubcaps. She finally told him that “police officers don’t fly jet airplanes, they drive squad cars.” The man came in to file a complaint about her and a sergeant told the man to sit there and watch Mrs. Cason work for 15 minutes, and if he still wanted to file a complaint he could. The man would end up apologizing, saying he had “no idea this place was that busy” and left.
But it was about to become beyond busy.
Cason said she was off-duty, in a beauty salon, on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when news came over the radio that President Kennedy had been shot.
“I remember everyone being terribly, terribly upset,” said Cason, who also remembers it being a beautiful day weather-wise and that being part of the reason why Kennedy decided to leave the bubble top off the car.
Cason immediately called work to see if they wanted her to come in. They didn’t, but she was there the next day at 6:30 a.m., Nov. 23, the start of her shift.
“It was bedlam from then on,” she remembers, taking call after call from all around the world from people asking why Dallas couldn’t protect the president, how they could have let this happen. She remembers remaining calm and just saying something like, “We’re truly sorry and it’s being investigated …”
She said there wasn’t security like now, and the hallway outside the dispatchers’ office was chaos, jammed with reporters, cables on the floor. The dispatchers never had time to eat lunch that day, and could only get to the bathroom in the hall with an escort from an officer to protect them from the mass of questioning reporters. She remembers in the bathroom someone had put up a sign for fun, “Smile, you may be on candid camera.”
Cason said at some point during her Nov. 23 shift, she was in the hallway when the elevator door opened and out came a handcuffed Oswald, escorted by detectives to the homicide bureau down the hall for more questioning, she thought.
She was maybe less than four feet from Oswald.
“I thought he looked a little ‘mousy,’ very thin, nondescript … He didn’t seem to have much expression.”
She said who she really remembers more was his wife, Marina, who had dark short hair, a maternity top and skirt on, and who passed Cason soon after Oswald. “I think I put more attention to her — how frightened and scared she looked … The look on her face, really lost as to what was going on.”
The next day, Nov. 24, Oswald would be dead. Cason said everyone knew Ruby, Oswald’s killer. “All the police officers knew him,” she said. Some of them would go to his club to have a drink after work.
Cason said only a couple people knew when Oswald would be escorted by police from the basement to be transported to the nearby county jail. She doesn’t think it’s possible Ruby could have known. She remembers hearing Ruby had been to the Western Union on the corner sending money to an employee, and just happened to be strolling by the police department’s ramp to the basement, saw the crowd and went in to see what was going on. Ruby made a spontaneous decision to shoot him for Jackie Kennedy, Cason thinks.
Cason would end up testifying for the Warren Commission about the sequence of events in the dispatch office after the Oswald shooting.
Cason, who would move to Colorado to be near her daughter, still works part-time doing administrative work, and volunteers for a couple groups — but her lifelong interest in writing persists.
She thinks she has a couple books in her: Her life with Jim — and life at the Dallas Police Department.