Tippit was born in Clarksville, Red River County, Texas, to Edgar Lee Tippit, a farmer, and Lizzie Mae Rush. The Tippit and Rush families were ofEnglish ancestry, their ancestors having immigrated to Virginia from England by 1635. It is sometimes reported that J.D. stood for "Jefferson Davis", but in fact, the letters did not stand for anything in particular. Tippit attended public schools through the tenth grade and was raised as a Baptist. He entered the United States Army on July 21, 1944, and was assigned to the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the US 17th Airborne Division. He saw combat in Operation Varsity, the airborne crossing of the Rhine River in March 1945, earning a Bronze Star, and remained on active duty until June 20, 1946.
Tippit was married to Marie Frances Gasway on December 26, 1946, and the couple had three children (whose ages were 14, 10, and 5 at the time of his death). That same year, he went to work for the Dearborn Stove Company. He next worked for Sears, Roebuck and Company in the installation department from March 1948 to September 1949, when he moved to Lone Star, Texas, and attempted cattle raising.
Tippit attended a Veterans Administration vocational training school at Bogata, Texas, from January 1950 until June 1952. He was then hired by the Dallas Police Department as a patrolman on July 28, 1952. Officer Tippit served capably and was cited for bravery in 1956 for his role in disarming a fugitive.
At the time of his death, Tippit was assigned to Dallas Police vehicle #10, had badge #848 and was earning a salary of $5,880 a year as a Dallas police officer. He was also working two other part-time jobs, including a job as security at Austin's Barbecue restaurant.
On November 22, 1963, J.D. Tippit was working beat number 78, his normal patrol area in south Oak Cliff, a residential area of Dallas. At 12:45 p.m., 15 minutes after the President's assassination, Tippit received a radio order to move to the central Oak Cliff area as part of a concentration of police around the center of the city. At 12:54 Tippit radioed that he had moved as directed. By then several messages had been broadcast describing a suspect in the Kennedy assassination as a slender white male, in his early thirties, 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall, and weighing about 165 pounds (75 kg). Oswald was a slender white male, 24 years old, 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) tall, and an estimated weight of 150 pounds (68 kg) pounds at autopsy.
According to the Warren Commission, at approximately 1:11–1:14 p.m., Tippit was driving slowly eastward on East 10th Street when — about 100 feet (30 m) past the intersection of 10th Street and Patton Avenue — he pulled alongside a man who resembled the broadcast description of Lee Harvey Oswald. The man walked over to Tippit's car and apparently exchanged words with him through an open vent window. Tippit opened his car door and as he walked toward the front of the car, the man drew a handgun and fired three shots in rapid succession, all three bullets hitting Tippit in the chest. The man then walked up to Tippit's fallen body and fired a fourth shot directly into his right temple, fatally wounding him. Tippit was dead before any help could arrive and Oswald was later arrested after "acting suspiciously" by appearing nervous as police sirens neared him and by ducking into the Texas Theatre without buying a ticket.
The Warren Commission identified twelve people who witnessed the shooting, or its aftermath. Domingo Benavides saw Tippit standing by the left door of his parked police car, and a man standing on the right side of the car. He then heard shots and saw Tippit fall to the ground. Benavides stopped his pickup truck on the opposite side of the street from Tippit's car. He observed the shooter fleeing the scene and removing spent cartridge cases from his gun as he left. Benavides waited in his truck until the gunman disappeared before assisting Tippit. He then reported the shooting to police headquarters, using the radio in Tippit's car. Helen Markham witnessed the shooting and then saw a man with a gun in his hand leave the scene. Markham identified Lee Harvey Oswald as Tippit’s killer in a police lineup she viewed that evening. Barbara Davis and her sister-in-law Virginia Davis heard the shots and saw a man crossing their lawn, shaking his revolver, as if he were emptying it of cartridge cases. Later, the women found two cartridge cases near the crime scene and handed the cases over to police. That evening, Barbara Davis and Virginia Davis were taken to a lineup and both Davises picked out Oswald as the man whom they had seen.
Taxicab driver William Scoggins testified that he saw Tippit's police car pull up alongside a man on the sidewalk, as he his sat in his taxicab nearby. Scoggins heard three or four shots and then saw Tippit fall to the ground. As Scoggins crouched behind his cab, the man passed within twelve feet of him, pistol in hand, muttering what sounded to him like, "poor dumb cop" or "poor damn cop." The next day, Scoggins viewed a police lineup and identified Oswald as the man whom he had seen with the pistol. But "Scoggins admitted he did not actually witness the shooting and his view of the fleeing killer was obscured because he ducked down behind his cab as the man came by."
The Commission also named several other witnesses who were not at the scene of the murder, but who identified Oswald running between the murder scene and the Texas Theater, where Oswald was subsequently arrested.
Four cartridge cases were found at the scene by eyewitnesses. It was the unanimous testimony of expert witnesses before the Warren Commission that these spent cartridge cases were fired from the revolver in Oswald's possession to the exclusion of all other weapons.
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations reported: "Based on Oswald's possession of the murder weapon a short time after the murder and the eyewitness identifications of Oswald as the gunman, the committee concluded that Oswald shot and killed Officer Tippit."
On the evening of the assassination, both Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, called Tippit's widow to express their sympathies. Jacqueline Kennedy wrote a letter expressing sorrow for the bond they shared. The plight of Tippit's family also moved much of the nation and a total of $647,579 ($4.5 million in 2009) was donated to them following the assassination. One of the largest individual gifts was the $25,000 ($176,600 in 2009) that Abraham Zapruder donated after selling his film of the assassination.
A funeral service for J.D. Tippit was held on November 25, 1963, at the Beckley Hills Baptist Church, with the burial following at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas. His funeral occurred on the same day as those of both Kennedy and Oswald.
In January 1964, Tippit was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor from the American Police Hall of Fame, and he also received the Police Medal of Honor, the Police Cross, and the Citizens Traffic Commission Award of Heroism. A memorial to Officer Tippit was unveiled November 20, 2012 at the corner where the shooting occurred (10th and Patton Streets, Dallas, TX).
Tippit's widow married Dallas police lieutenant Harry Dean Thomas in January 1967.
JD Tippit's Family Tippit's wife at funeral