DALLAS, TX — On January 3, 1967, Jack Ruby, the Texas strip club owner who fatally shot accused JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, succumbed to complications from lung cancer at Parkland Hospital — the same facility where both Kennedy and Oswald had been declared dead.
Just prior to Ruby becoming gravely ill in prison, the Texas Court of Appeals had overturned his death sentence for killing Oswald and granted him a new trial.
Jack Ruby died at age 55. Like so many others in the orbit of the JFK assassination, he took secrets to his grave that the public has never stopped pondering.
Born Jacob Leon Rubenstein in 1911, Ruby grew up as a young troublemaker in Chicago. He dropped out of school early, and made his way as a “street hustler,” running for small-time hoodlums and peddling gambling tip-sheets before hooking up with a corrupt garbage-collectors union.
After a stint in the army, Ruby relocated to Dallas and got into the strip-club business, where he reportedly participated in the usual vice rackets (prostitution, drugs, gambling, etc.) and stayed out of jail by allegedly supplying cops and politicians with party girls, liquor, and other indulgences. Still, the world didn’t know Jack Ruby until November 24, 1963, when, three days after the murder of President John F. Kennedy, he became the second-most infamous gunman on earth.Related: Could Woody Harrelson’s Hitman Dad Have Shot JFK?
As the nation reeled from JFK’s killing that morning, a platoon of law-enforcement agents escorted accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald through the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters. Live television cameras broadcast the transfer as it happened.
At 11:21 A.M., Jack Ruby stepped forth from a crowd of reporters, pulled out a .38-caliber revolver, and pumped a single bullet into Oswald’s midsection. Officers tackled Ruby, and rushed Oswald to Parkland Hospital, where he died shortly thereafter.
Following the chaos, Ruby said he acted out of grief for the slain president and that he pulled the trigger both to “redeem” the city of Dallas and to spare “Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial.” Doubters emerged immediately — and have not stopped emerging ever since.
While awaiting trial for first-degree murder, Ruby told his attorneys to be on the lookout for a man named Davis, “a gunrunner entangled in the anti-Castro efforts.” But Davis never surfaced and, on March 14, 1964, a jury convicted Ruby of murder with malice and sentenced him to death.The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, however, would later vacate that ruling, stating that Ruby’s police-station confession was inadmissible and that, given the unprecedentedly high-profile nature of the case, the trial venue should obviously have been moved away from Dallas.
During the Jack Ruby trial, the government undertook The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, a fact-finding effort presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and known more commonly as the Warren Commission.
For six months, Ruby begged in writing and by verbal communication to talk to the members of Commission. At first, the committee expressed no interest in contacting, let alone conversing with, the man who killed the man they would eventually “determine” had killed JFK.
Once Ruby’s sister exposed that Commission’s stonewalling to the public, though, Warren himself and future U.S. president Gerald Ford (then a Michigan Representative) flew down to meet the convicted murderer.
When talking to Warren, Ruby repeatedly asked to be transferred to protective custody in Washington. Ruby said his life was in danger in Dallas. He added, “I have been used for a purpose … I want to tell the truth and I can’t tell it here.”
The Chief Justice said he couldn’t do anything about moving Ruby and flew back to the capitol.
Arrangements had been made for Ruby to stand trial anew in Wichita Falls, Texas, in February 1967. Less than one month before those proceedings were slated to start, Jack Ruby was dead.
The Warren Commission ultimately “cleared” Ruby of any conspiratorial skullduggery. In keeping with their official declaration that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, the Commission claimed that Ruby simply shot Oswald because he was sad about JFK.
The Warren Report also put forth simple, stock answers to a multitude of questions that observers, since then, have only kept asking. Among them:
• How was Ruby able to so easily get direct, armed access to the most notorious prisoner on earth — inside Dallas Police Headquarters— just as live TV cameras would create millions of witnesses?
• Why had Ruby impersonated a newspaper reporter at a press conference on the night Kennedy died — where, on camera, he corrected District Attorney Henry Wade regarding Oswald’s affiliation with the pro-Castro “Fair Play for Cuba Committee”?
• As an owner of strip clubs and dancehalls who routinely bumped up against vice regulations and cut deals with law enforcement, how extensive was Ruby’s involvement with organized crime?
• What did Ruby meet with mafia associates about during his 1959 trip to Cuba?
• And of course, the big one: Why did Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald?
Due to these and so many other Warren Commission declarations the public never completely bought, in 1979, the government launched The House Select Committee on Assassinations. Their final report took serious umbrage with the Warren Report, noting:
“Ruby’s shooting of Oswald was not a spontaneous act, in that it involved at least some premeditation … There is also evidence that the Dallas Police Department withheld relevant information from the Warren Commission.”
The House Committee also unearthed a note from Ruby to his defense team that stated, “My first lawyer … told me to say I shot Oswald so that Caroline and Mrs. Kennedy wouldn’t have to come to Dallas to testify. OK?”
Ultimately, G. Robert Blakely, who headed the final years of The House Committee, declared:
“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.”
Of course, the Jack Ruby story has still never completely been put to rest. In National Archives documents made public in 2017, FBI informant Bob Vanderslice is quoted as saying that Jack Ruby contacted him in Dallas on the morning of November 22, 1963 and invited him to “watch the fireworks.”
The documents further state that Vanderslice and Ruby personally witnessed JFK getting shot:
“He was with Jack Ruby and standing at the corner of the Postal Annex Building facing the Texas School Book Depository Building at the time of the shooting. Immediately after the shooting, Ruby left and headed toward the area of the Dallas Morning News Building.”
The truth about JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby may well be out there. Just don’t count on anyone ever finding it.
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Main photos: Jack Ruby [Wikipedia]