Jack Leon Ruby (born Jacob Leon Rubenstein; March 25, 1911 – January 3, 1967) was a nightclub operator in Dallas, Texas. On November 24, 1963, Ruby fatally shot Lee Harvey Oswald, who was in police custody after being charged with the assassination of John F. Kennedy two days earlier. A Dallas jury found Ruby guilty of murdering Oswald, and Ruby was sentenced to death. Later, Ruby appealed his conviction and death sentence and was granted a new trial. As the date for his new trial was being set, Ruby became ill and died of a pulmonary embolism due to lung cancer.
Many contend Ruby was involved with major figures in organized crime, and conspiracy theorists widely assert that Ruby killed Oswald as part of an overall plot surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. Others have argued against this, saying that Ruby's connection with gangsters was minimal at most, or circumstantial, and also that Ruby was not the sort to be entrusted with such an act within a high-level conspiracy.
Childhood and early life
Jack Ruby was born Jacob Leon Rubenstein to Joseph Rubenstein (1871–1958) and Fannie Turek Rutkowski (or Rokowsky), both Polish-born, Orthodox Jews, in Chicago, on March 25, 1911.
The fifth of his parents' ten 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. 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.
Associations with organized crime and gunrunning allegations
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. Fifteen years later, 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 Joe 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-based organized crime 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 Joe 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 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.
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
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 p.m. 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 p.m., 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 murder of Oswald
Later in the day, after driving into town with his two pet dogs and sending an emergency money order to one of his employees, Ruby walked to the nearby police headquarters, where he made his way to the basement via the Main Steet ramp. 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. 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.
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.
When Ruby was arrested immediately after the shooting, he told several witnesses that he 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.
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?"
Another motive was put forth by Frank Sheeran, allegedly a hitman for the Mafia, in a conversation he had with the then-former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. During the conversation, Hoffa claimed that Ruby was assigned the task of coordinating police officers who were loyal to Ruby to murder Oswald while he was in their custody. As Ruby evidently mismanaged the operation, he was given a choice to either finish the job himself or forfeit his life.
Within hours of Ruby's arrest for shooting Oswald, a telegram was received at the Dallas city jail in support of Ruby, under the names of Hal and Pauline Collins. In one of the Warren Commission's exhibits, Hal Collins is listed as a character reference by Ruby on a Texas liquor license application.
Prosecution and conviction
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.
The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Ruby's killing of Oswald with any broader conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.
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."
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.
According to an unnamed Associated Press source, Ruby made a final statement from his hospital bed on December 19 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.
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, Bill Bonanno, son of New York Mafia boss Joseph 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.
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 murder, 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.
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.
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.
Ruby's shooting of Oswald, and his behavior both before and after the Kennedy assassination, have been the topic of numerous films, TV programs, books, and songs. Articles of clothing that Ruby wore when he killed Oswald — including his suit, hat and shoes — are on display at the Historic Auto Attractions museum in Roscoe, Illinois.
- Tom Skerritt's Fighting Back (1982 film) has footage of his shooting of Oswald in its opening credits news special on violence.
- In Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK, Ruby was portrayed by actor Brian Doyle-Murray. Stone's perspective on events draws heavily from conspiracy theory researchers such as Jim Marrs and L. Fletcher Prouty. At least three scenes further detailing Ruby were removed from the film and are only available on DVD. One scene expanded on the Oswald shooting by showing corrupt Dallas police officers allowing Ruby to enter police headquarters through a restricted entrance.
- The 1992 film Ruby speculated on complex motivations that might have propelled Ruby into shooting Oswald. Among these were Ruby's reputation among family and friends as an assiduous, emotionally volatile publicity-seeker, and the influence of his long-time organized crime and Dallas police connections. Ruby was played by Danny Aiello.
- In The Last Waltz, the classic rock film of The Band's final concert, the band recalls a time playing a show at The Skyline Lounge which, unbeknownst to them at the time, was a club owned by Jack Ruby.
- Ruby is one of the main characters of James Ellroy's novel, The Cold Six Thousand. The plot revolves around the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy, and the assassinations of Senator Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. It speculates about government agencies like the CIA and the FBI, as well as figures like J. Edgar Hoover, and their links to Mafia and anti-Castro groups alleged to have been involved in the assassinations.
- In his 1989 novel Libra, Don DeLillo portrays Ruby as being part of a larger conspiracy surrounding the President's assassination, imagining that a mob member persuades Ruby to kill Oswald.
- Ruby and Oswald (1978), a made-for-television movie, generally followed the official record as presented by the Warren Commission. Ruby's actions and dialogue (as well as those of the people he comes in contact with) are nearly verbatim re-enactments of testimony given to the Warren Commission by those involved, according to the opening narration. Ruby was played by Michael Lerner.
- Report of the Warren Commission on the assassination of President Kennedy. St. Martin's Griffin. 1992. ISBN 978-0-312-08257-4.
- Bugliosi, Vincent (2007). Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-04525-3.
- Fonzi, Gaeton (1993). The Last Investigation. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 978-1-56025-052-4.
- Kantor, Seth (1978). Who Was Jack Ruby?. Everest House. ISBN 0-89696-004-8.
- Manchester, William (1996). The Death of a President: November November 20–25. BBS Publishing Corporation. ISBN 978-0-88365-956-4.
- McKnight, Gerald D. (2005). Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1390-8.
- Newman, John (1995). Oswald and the CIA. Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7867-0131-5.
- Rappleye, Charles; Ed Becker (1991). All American Mafioso. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-26676-5.
- Summers, Anthony (1998). Not in Your Lifetime: The Definitive Book on the JFK Assassination. Marlowe & Company. ISBN 978-1-56924-739-6.
- Almog, Oz, Jüdische Gangster in Amerika, 1890–1980 ; Jüdischen Museum der Stadt Wien ; 2003, Text Oz Almog, Erich Metz, ISBN 3-901398-33-3
Mark Shaw - "The Poison Patriarch: How the Betrayals of Joseph P. Kennedy Caused the Assassination of JFK" Skyhorse Publishing, 2013 ISBN 1626360600
- "Giancana's half-bother Chuck and nephew Sam claimed in their 1992 book Double Cross that the Mafia don had a long, warm, and mutually rewarding relationship with Nixon that dated back to the 1940s. '…He even helped my guy in Texas, (Jack) Ruby, get out of testifying in front of Congress back in forty-seven … By sayin' Ruby worked for him.'"
- at Find a Grave