Jack Leon Ruby (born Jacob Leon Rubenstein; March 25, 1911 – January 3, 1967) was a Dallas, Texas nightclub owner who fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963, while Oswald was in police custody after being charged with assassinating U.S. President John F. Kennedy two days earlier. A Dallas jury found him guilty of murdering Oswald and he was sentenced to death. Ruby's conviction was later appealed and he was granted a new trial. However, on January 3, 1967, as the date for his new trial was being set, Ruby became ill in his prison cell and died of a pulmonary embolism from lung cancer.
In September 1964, the Warren Commission concluded that Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald. Various groups believed Ruby was involved with major figures in organized crime and that he killed Oswald as part of an overall plot surrounding the assassination of Kennedy.
Childhood and early life Edit
Jack Ruby was born Jacob Leon Rubenstein to Joseph Rubenstein (1871–1958) and Fannie Turek Rutkowski (or Rokowsky), (1878-1944) both Polish-born, Orthodox Jews, in Chicago, on March 25, 1911.
The fifth of his parents' eight surviving children, growing up in the Maxwell Street area of Chicago, Ruby had a troubled childhood and adolescence, marked by juvenile delinquency and time spent in foster homes. On June 6, 1922, aged 11, he was arrested for truancy. Ruby eventually skipped school enough times that he spent time at the Institute of Juvenile Research. Young Ruby sold horse-racing tip sheets and various other novelties, then acted as business agent for a local refuse collectors union that later became part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
In the 1940s, Ruby frequented race tracks in Illinois and California. He was drafted in 1943 and served in the Army Air Forces during World War II, working as an aircraft mechanic at bases in the US until 1946. He had an honorable record and was promoted to Private First Class. Upon discharge, on February 21, 1946, Ruby returned to Chicago.
In 1947, Ruby moved to Dallas where he and his brothers soon afterward shortened their surnames from Rubenstein to Ruby. The stated reason for changing the family name was that he and his brothers had opened up a mail order business and feared that some customers would refuse to do business with Jews. Ruby later went on to manage various nightclubs, strip clubs, and dance halls. Among the strippers Ruby befriended was Candy Barr.
Ruby developed close ties to many Dallas police officers who frequented his nightclubs, where he showered them with large quantities of liquor and other favors. In 1959, Ruby went to Cuba ostensibly to visit a friend, influential Dallas gambler Lewis McWillie, an associate of Mafia boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. Ruby may have met directly with Trafficante on those visits according to the testimony of British journalist John Wilson-Hudson who was imprisoned in Cuba at the time. (Trafficante operated major casinos in Cuba and was briefly imprisoned after Fidel Castro came to power).
Ruby never married, nor did he have any children.
Illegal activities in Dallas Edit
There was evidence indicating Jack Ruby had been involved in the underworld activities of illegal gambling, narcotics, and prostitution.
During his time in Dallas Ruby was apart of the Dallas Mafia, and was a known to be associated with the slain Gambler Chicken Louie. Ruby had escaped arrest in May 1951 on a surprise raid on a bookmaking operation.
A 1956 FBI report stated that their informant Eileen Curry reported that in January of that year, she moved to Dallas with her boyfriend, James Breen, after jumping bond on narcotics charges. Breen told her that he had made connections with a large narcotics set up operating between Texas, Mexico, and the East and that "in some fashion, James got the okay to operate through Jack Ruby of Dallas."
Former Dallas County Sheriff Steve Guthrie told the FBI that he believed Ruby "operated some prostitution activities and other vices in his club" since living in Dallas.
Dallas disc jockey Kenneth Dowe testified that Ruby was known around the station for "procuring women for different people who came to town."
John F. Kennedy assassination Edit
November 21 Edit
The Warren Commission attempted to reconstruct Ruby's movements from November 21, 1963 through November 24. The Commission reported that he was attending to his duties as the proprietor of the Carousel Club in downtown Dallas and the Vegas Club in the city's Oaklawn district from the afternoon of November 21 to the early hours of November 22.
November 22: The assassination of Kennedy Edit
According to the Warren Commission, Ruby was in the second-floor advertising offices of the Dallas Morning News, five blocks away from the Texas School Book Depository, placing weekly advertisements for his nightclubs when he learned of the assassination of Kennedy around 12:45 pm. Ruby then placed telephone calls to his assistant at the Carousel Club and to his sister. The Commission stated that an employee of the Dallas Morning News estimated that Ruby left the newspaper's offices at 1:30 pm, but indicated that other testimony suggested he may have left earlier.
White House correspondent Seth Kantor — who was a passenger in the motorcade — told the Warren Commission that he went to Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy received medical care after the shooting, at about 1:30 pm, an hour after President Kennedy was shot. Kantor said that as he was entering the hospital, he felt a tug on his coat. He turned around to see Jack Ruby who called him by his first name and shook his hand. (Kantor said that he had become acquainted with Ruby while he was a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald newspaper). According to Kantor, Ruby asked him if he thought that it would be a good idea for him to close his nightclubs for the next three nights because of the tragedy and Kantor responded that he thought that doing so would be a good idea.
The Warren Commission dismissed Kantor's testimony, saying that the Parkland Hospital encounter would have had to take place in a span of a few minutes before and after 1:30 pm, as evidenced by telephone company records of calls made by Kantor and Ruby around that time. The Commission also pointed to contradictory witness testimony and to the lack of video confirmation of Ruby at the scene. The Commission concluded that "Kantor probably did not see Ruby at Parkland Hospital" and "may have been mistaken about both the time and the place that he saw Ruby".
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations reexamined Kantor's testimony and stated: "While the Warren Commission concluded that Kantor was mistaken [about his Parkland encounter with Ruby], the Committee determined he probably was not."
According to the Warren Commission, Ruby arrived back at the Carousel Club shortly before 1:45 pm to notify employees that the club would be closed that evening.
Ruby (also known by the childhood nickname "Sparky") was seen in the halls of the Dallas Police Headquarters on several occasions after the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963; and newsreel footage from WFAA-TV (Dallas) and NBC shows Ruby impersonating a newspaper reporter during a press conference at Dallas Police Headquarters on the night of the assassination. District Attorney Henry Wade briefed reporters at the press conference telling them that Lee Oswald was a member of the anti-Castro Free Cuba Committee. Ruby was one of several people there who spoke up to correct Wade, saying: "Henry, that's the Fair Play for Cuba Committee," a pro-Castro organization. Some speculate that Ruby may have hoped to kill Oswald that night at the police station press conference. Ruby told the FBI, a month after his arrest for killing Oswald, that he had his loaded snub-nosed Colt Cobra .38 revolver in his right-hand pocket during the press conference.
November 24: The killing of Oswald Edit
Later in the day, after driving into town and sending a money order to one of his employees, Ruby walked to the nearby police headquarters and made his way to the basement. At 11:21 am CST — while authorities were escorting Oswald through the police basement to an armored car that was to take him to the nearby county jail — Ruby stepped out from a crowd of reporters and fired his .38 revolver into Oswald's abdomen, fatally wounding him. The shooting was broadcast live nationally, and millions of television viewers witnessed it. Oswald was taken unconscious by ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital—the same hospital where doctors tried to save President Kennedy's life two days earlier. Oswald died at 1:07 p.m.
After his arrest, Ruby asked Dallas attorney Tom Howard to represent him. Howard accepted and asked Ruby if he could think of anything that might damage his defense. Ruby responded that there would be a problem if a man by the name of "Davis" should come up. Ruby told his attorney that he "…had been involved with Davis, who was a gunrunner entangled in anti-Castro efforts." Davis was identified years later — after research by journalist Seth Kantor — as being Thomas Eli Davis III, a CIA-connected "soldier of fortune."
Later, Ruby replaced attorney Tom Howard with prominent San Francisco defense attorney Melvin Belli who agreed to represent Ruby pro bono. Some observers thought that the case could have been disposed of as a "murder without malice" charge (roughly equivalent to manslaughter), with a maximum prison sentence of five years. Belli attempted to prove that Ruby was legally insane and had a history of mental illness in his family (the latter being true, as his mother had been committed to a mental hospital years before). On March 14, 1964, Ruby was convicted of murder with malice, for which he received a death sentence.
During the six months following the Kennedy assassination, Ruby repeatedly asked, orally and in writing, to speak to the members of the Warren Commission. The commission initially showed no interest. Only after Ruby's sister Eileen wrote letters to the commission (and her letters became public) did the Warren Commission agree to talk to Ruby. In June 1964, Chief Justice Earl Warren, then-Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, and other commission members went to Dallas to see Ruby. Ruby asked Warren several times to take him to Washington D.C., saying "my life is in danger here" and that he wanted an opportunity to make additional statements. He added: "I want to tell the truth, and I can't tell it here." Warren told Ruby that he would be unable to comply, because many legal barriers would need to be broken and public interest in the situation would be too heavy. Warren also told Ruby that the commission would have no way of protecting him, since it had no police powers. Ruby said he wanted to convince President Lyndon Johnson that he was not part of any conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
Eventually, the appellate court agreed with Ruby's lawyers for a new trial, and on October 5, 1966, ruled that his motion for a change of venue before the original trial court should have been granted. Ruby's conviction and death sentence were overturned. Arrangements were underway for a new trial to be held in February 1967 in Wichita Falls, Texas, when on December 9, 1966, Ruby was admitted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, suffering from pneumonia. A day later, doctors realized he had cancer in his liver, lungs, and brain. Three weeks later, he died.
Ruby died of a pulmonary embolism, secondary to bronchogenic carcinoma (lung cancer), on January 3, 1967 at Parkland Hospital, where Oswald had died and where President Kennedy had been pronounced dead after his assassination. He was buried beside his parents in the Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge, Illinois.
Official investigations Edit
Warren Commission Edit
The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Ruby's killing of Oswald with any broader conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. In 1964, the Warren Commission provided a detailed biography of Ruby's life and activities to help ascertain whether he was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. The Commission indicated that there was not a "significant link between Ruby and organized crime" and said he acted independently in killing Oswald.
In Gerald Posner's book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, Ruby's friends, relatives and associates stress how upset he was upon hearing of Kennedy's death, even crying on occasion, and how he went so far as to close his money-losing clubs for three days as a mark of respect. They also disputed the conspiracy claims, saying that Ruby's connection with gangsters was minimal at most and that he was not the sort to be entrusted with such an act within a high-level conspiracy.
Dallas reporter Tony Zoppi, who knew Ruby well, claims that one "would have to be crazy" to entrust Ruby with anything as important as a high-level plot to kill Kennedy since he "couldn't keep a secret for five minutes… Jack was one of the most talkative guys you would ever meet. He'd be the worst fellow in the world to be part of a conspiracy, because he just plain talked too much." He and others describe Ruby as the sort who enjoyed being at "the center of attention", trying to make friends with people and being more of a nuisance.
Some writers, including former Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, dismiss Ruby's connections to organized crime as being minimal at best: "It is very noteworthy that without exception, not one of these conspiracy theorists knew or had ever met Jack Ruby. Without our even resorting to his family and roommate, all of whom think the suggestion of Ruby being connected to the mob is ridiculous, those who knew him, unanimously and without exception, think the notion of his being connected to the Mafia, and then killing Oswald for them, is nothing short of laughable."
Bill Alexander, who prosecuted Ruby for Oswald's murder, equally rejected any suggestions that Ruby was part-and-parcel of organized crime, claiming that conspiracy theorists based it on the claim that "A knew B, and Ruby knew B back in 1950, so he must have known A, and that must be the link to the conspiracy."
Ruby's brother Earl denied allegations that Jack was involved in racketeering Chicago nightclubs, and author Gerald Posner suggests that Ruby may have been confused with Harry Rubenstein, a convicted Chicago felon. Entertainment reporter Tony Zoppi is also dismissive of mob ties. He knew Ruby and described him as a "born loser."
Author Norman Mailer and others have questioned why Ruby would have left his two beloved dogs in his car if he had planned on killing Oswald at police headquarters.
Other investigations and dissenting theories Edit
Some critics have not accepted the conclusions of the Warren Commission and have proposed several other theories.
Ruby's motive Edit
When Ruby was arrested immediately after the shooting, he told several witnesses that he had been distraught over President Kennedy's death and had helped the city of Dallas "redeem" itself in the eyes of the public, and that Oswald's death would spare "…Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial." At the time of the shooting Ruby said he was taking phenmetrazine, a central nervous system stimulant. Two months after Oswald's death, Ruby broke into tears at his bond hearing, as he talked to reporters regarding the assassination of President Kennedy. His voice breaking, Ruby said that he could not understand "how a great man like that could be lost." According to an unnamed Associated Press source, Ruby made a final statement from his hospital bed on December 19, 1966 that he alone had been responsible for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. "There is nothing to hide… There was no one else," Ruby said.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations in its 1979 Final Report opined:
"…Ruby's shooting of Oswald was not a spontaneous act, in that it involved at least some premeditation. Similarly, the committee believed it was less likely that Ruby entered the police basement without assistance, even though the assistance may have been provided with no knowledge of Ruby's intentions… The committee was troubled by the apparently unlocked doors along the stairway route and the removal of security guards from the area of the garage nearest the stairway shortly before the shooting… There is also evidence that the Dallas Police Department withheld relevant information from the Warren Commission concerning Ruby's entry to the scene of the Oswald transfer."
Ruby's explanation for killing Oswald would be "exposed … as a fabricated legal ploy", according to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. In a private note to one of his attorneys, Joseph Tonahill, Ruby wrote: "Joe, you should know this. My first lawyer Tom Howard told me to say that I shot Oswald so that Caroline and Mrs. Kennedy wouldn't have to come to Dallas to testify. OK?"
G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations from 1977 to 1979, said: "The most plausible explanation for the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby was that Ruby had stalked him on behalf of organized crime, trying to reach him on at least three occasions in the forty-eight hours before he silenced him forever."
In his testimony before the Warren Commission, Russell Lee Moore Knight said that Ruby held no bitterness towards Oswald and called him "a good looking guy" who resembled Paul Newman.
Ruby made many long rambling statements while in prison. While talking, he disclosed that he did not vote for Kennedy and had not gone to see the President in the Dallas motorcade. Additionally, despite people's claims that they saw Ruby upset over the weekend of the assassination, others said that he wasn't; On Friday night TV newsman Vic Robertson Jr. saw Ruby at Police Headquarters and reported that Ruby "appeared to be anything but under stress or strain. He seemed happy, jovial, was joking and laughing". Announcer Glen Duncan also testified that Ruby "was not grieving" and if anything, was "happy that evidence was piling up against Oswald".
Harry Hall, Ruby's partner in a gambling operation, told the FBI that "Ruby was the type who was interested in any way to make money" and also said that he "could not conceive of Ruby doing anything out of patriotism." Jack Kelly, who had known Ruby casually since 1943, "scoffed at the idea of a patriotic motive being involved by Ruby in the slaying of Oswald", and reportedly stated that he "could not see Ruby" killing Oswald "out of patriotism" but "for publicity or...for money."
Ruby's friend Paul Roland Jones was paraphrased by his FBI interviewers as affirming that:
from his acquaintance with Ruby he doubted that he would have become emotionally upset and killed Oswald on the spur of the moment. He felt Ruby would have done it for money.
Following Ruby's March 1964 conviction for murder with malice, Ruby's lawyers, led by Sam Houston Clinton, appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in Texas. Ruby's lawyers argued that he could not have received a fair trial in Dallas because of the excessive publicity surrounding the case. A year after his conviction, in March 1965, Ruby conducted a brief televised news conference in which he stated: "Everything pertaining to what's happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts of what occurred, my motives. The people who had so much to gain, and had such an ulterior motive for putting me in the position I'm in, will never let the true facts come above board to the world." When asked by a reporter, "Are these people in very high positions, Jack?", he responded "Yes."
Dallas Deputy Sheriff Al Maddox claimed: "Ruby told me, he said, 'Well, they injected me for a cold.' He said it was cancer cells. That's what he told me, Ruby did. I said you don't believe that bullshit. He said, 'I damn sure do!' [Then] one day when I started to leave, Ruby shook hands with me and I could feel a piece of paper in his palm… [In this note] he said it was a conspiracy and he said … if you will keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, you're gonna learn a lot. And that was the last letter I ever got from him." Not long before Ruby died, according to an article in the London Sunday Times, he told psychiatrist Werner Teuter that the assassination was "an act of overthrowing the government" and that he knew "who had President Kennedy killed." He added: "I am doomed. I do not want to die. But I am not insane. I was framed to kill Oswald."
Journalist Seth Kantor — who testified that on the day of the assassination, he encountered Ruby at Parkland Hospital — also reported that Ruby might have tampered with evidence while at Parkland. Goaded by the Warren Commission's dismissal of his testimony, Kantor researched the Ruby case for years. In a later published book Who Was Jack Ruby?, Kantor wrote:
"The mob was Ruby's "friend." And Ruby could well have been paying off an IOU the day he was used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald. Remember: "I have been used for a purpose," the way Ruby expressed it to Chief Justice Warren in their June 7, 1964 session. It would not have been hard for the mob to maneuver Ruby through the ranks of a few negotiable police [to kill Oswald]."
In his book, Contract on America, David Scheim presented evidence that Mafia leaders Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Jr. and Jimmy Hoffa ordered the assassination of President Kennedy. Scheim cited in particular a 25-fold increase in the number of out-of-state telephone calls from Jack Ruby to associates of these crime bosses in the months before the assassination. According to Vincent Bugliosi, both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations determined all of these calls were related to Ruby seeking help from the American Guild of Variety Artists in a matter concerning two of his competitors. The House Select Committee on Assassinations report stated "...that most of Ruby's phone calls during late 1963 were related to his labor troubles. In light of the identity of some of the individuals with whom Ruby spoke, however, the possibility of other matters being discussed could not be dismissed."
In his memoir, Bound by Honor, Salvatore Bonanno, son of New York Mafia boss Joseph "Bananas" Bonanno, stated that he realized that certain Mafia families were involved in the JFK assassination when Ruby killed Oswald, since Bonanno was aware that Ruby was an associate of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana.
Associations with organized crime and gunrunning allegations Edit
In 1979, fifteen years after the Warren report, the House Select Committee on Assassinations undertook a similar investigation of Ruby and said that he "had a significant number of associations and direct and indirect contacts with underworld figures" and "the Dallas criminal element" but that he was not a "member" of organized crime.
Ruby was known to have been acquainted with both the police and the Mafia. The HSCA said that Ruby had known Chicago mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975) and Joseph Campisi (1918–1990) since 1947, and had been seen with them on many occasions. After an investigation of Joseph Campisi, the HSCA found:
While Campisi's technical characterization in federal law enforcement records as an organized crime member has ranged from definite to suspected to negative, it is clear that he was an associate or friend of many Dallas crime family members, particularly Joseph Civello, during the time he was the head of the Dallas organization. There was no indication that Campisi had engaged in any specific organized crime-related activities.
Similarly, a PBS Frontline investigation into the connections between Ruby and Dallas organized crime figures reported the following:
In 1963, Sam and Joseph Campisi were leading figures in the Dallas underworld. Jack knew the Campisis and had been seen with them on many occasions. The Campisis were lieutenants of Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss who had reportedly talked of killing the President.
A day before Kennedy was assassinated, Ruby went to Joe Campisi's restaurant. At the time of the Kennedy assassination, Ruby was close enough to the Campisis to ask them to come see him after he was arrested for shooting Lee Oswald.
Howard P. Willens — the third highest official in the Department of Justice and assistant counsel to J. Lee Rankin — helped organize the Warren Commission. Willens also outlined the Commission's investigative priorities and terminated an investigation of Ruby's Cuban related activities. An FBI report states that Willens's father had been Tony Accardo's next door neighbor going back to 1958. In 1946, Tony Accardo allegedly asked Jack Ruby to go to Texas with Mafia associates Pat Manno and Romie Nappi to make sure that Dallas County Sheriff Steve Gutherie would acquiesce to the Mafia’s expansion into Dallas.
Four years before the assassination of President Kennedy, Ruby went to see a man named Lewis McWillie in Cuba. Ruby considered McWillie, who had previously run illegal gambling establishments in Texas, to be one of his closest friends. At the time Ruby visited him, in August 1959, McWillie was supervising gambling activities at Havana's Tropicana Club. Ruby told the Warren Commission that his August trip to Cuba was merely a social visit at the invitation of McWillie. The House Select Committee on Assassinations would later conclude that Ruby "…most likely was serving as a courier for gambling interests." The committee also found "circumstantial," but not conclusive, evidence that "…Ruby met with [Mafia boss] Santo Trafficante, Jr. in Cuba sometime in 1959."
James E. Beaird, who claimed to be a poker-playing friend of Jack Ruby, told both The Dallas Morning News and the FBI that Ruby smuggled guns and ammunition from Galveston Bay, Texas to Fidel Castro's guerrillas in Cuba in the late 1950s. Beaird said that Ruby "was in it for the money. It wouldn't matter which side, just [whichever] one that would pay him the most." Beaird said that the guns were stored in a two-story house near the waterfront, and that he saw Ruby and his associates load "many boxes of new guns, including automatic rifles and handguns" on a 50-foot military-surplus boat. He claimed that "each time that the boat left with guns and ammunition, Jack Ruby was on the boat."
Blaney Mack Johnson, an FBI informant, said Ruby was "active in arranging illegal flights of weapons from Miami" to pro-Castro forces in Cuba in the early 1950s.