The JFK 100


Who Was Jack Ruby?


Brian Doyle-Murray as Jack Ruby

 

Oliver Stone's JFK presents Jack Ruby as a shady character, a Mobster, and a participant in a JFK assassination cover-up, if not the assassination itself.

Who was Jack Ruby?

Jack Ruby was born Jacob Rubenstein in 1911, in Chicago, Illinois; he was the fifth of his parents' eight living children. There is considerable confusion about his birthdate, as Chicago did not keep records of birthdates prior to 1915, and various documents of Ruby's contain differing dates. The date most often used by Ruby himself is March 25, 1911.(1)

Ruby's younger years were marked by a turbulent home life; his parents fought violently and eventually separated, while his mother's mental health was noted as extremely unstable. By the age of eleven, Ruby was brought to the attention of the local Jewish social services, for "truancy and incorrigible [behavior] at home." He told an interviewer that he ran away from home because his mother lied to him and beat him. In 1923, Ruby was placed into the first of several foster homes, some of which he entered with one or more of his siblings.

As a teenager, Ruby engaged in numerous activities in order to supplement his family's income, including the sale of novelties and sports-related memorabilia (sometimes from a pushcart), and ticket scalping. He dropped out of school around the eighth or ninth grade (the exact year cannot be determined). In 1933 he and several friends moved to California in search of job opportunities.

Back in Chicago a few years later, Ruby continued to make a living selling novelties and costume jewelry, and scalping tickets. One friend referred to Ruby's livelihood as "shady" but "legitimate." He also became involved in Chicago's Local 20467 of the Scrap Iron and Junk Handlers Union, where a friend of his, attorney Leon Cooke, was financial secretary. Ruby worked with the union for several years as an organizer and negotiator.

After Leon Cooke was shot to death by the union's president, John Martin, Ruby left the union, reportedly heartbroken over Cooke's death. He adopted the name "Leon" as his own middle name, in honor of Cooke.

In 1941, Ruby and a friend, Harry Epstein, organized the Spartan Novelty Company, which sold gambling punchboards and small cedar chests containing candy throughout several northeastern states. Returning to Chicago, Ruby continued selling punchboards through the mail. With the outbreak of World War II, Ruby and his brothers began selling patriotic gift items, while Ruby occasionally supplemented his income as a salesman for local firms.

Ruby was drafted into the Air Force in early 1943, training in Farmingdale, New York, for five weeks, then serving at various airbases in the South. He also earned some spending money by peddling novelties such as punchboards and chocolates to his fellow recruits. He was honorably discharged on February 21, 1946, as a private first class, having received the good conduct medal.

After the war, Ruby returned to Chicago, where he and his brothers formed the Earl Products Co., manufacturing and selling a variety of novelties and small household items. After frequent arguments concerning Jack's continued sale of outside products, his brothers bought out his interest in the company.

In 1947, Ruby moved to Dallas, where his sister, Eva Grant, lived. Drawing upon his earnings from Earl Products, Ruby helped her finance the construction of a Dallas nightclub, the Singapore Supper Club, later renamed the Silver Spur Club. He later became the club's manager. On December 30, 1947, he legally changed his name from Jacob Rubenstein to Jack Leon Ruby.

In 1952, Ruby borrowed $3,700 to purchase a nightclub called the Bob Wills Ranch House with a friend of his, Martin Gimpel. After some financial misfortunes, Ruby sold his interests in the Ranch House and the Silver Spur. Depressed and discouraged, he experienced what he later described as a "mental breakdown," returning to Chicago for a few weeks. He soon returned to Dallas, however, and regained his share of the Silver Spur. In 1953 he purchased an interest in Dallas's Vegas Club, which he still owned at the time he shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963.

In 1955, Ruby sold the Silver Spur and briefly operated a club called Hernando's Hideaway, which was unsuccessful. In 1959, Ruby became a partner in establishing the Sovereign Club, a private club that sold liquor (which was outlawed in public clubs in Dallas). Due to the club's poor performance, Ruby bowed to demands of his partner, Ralph Paul, and discontinued the club's private memberships. In place of liquor, which the club could no longer offer, striptease shows became the main attraction. Its name was changed to the Carousel Club.

The Carousel was one of downtown Dallas's three burlesque houses, and enjoyed a modest success serving champagne, beer, "setups," and pizza. The club generally employed four strippers, a band, and a master of ceremonies.

On the side, Ruby continued to be involved in a number of other business ventures, including the sale of various novelties and household items, and the promotion of a child entertainer, "Little Daddy" Nelson. In October 1963, Ruby assisted the producers of an exhibit at the Texas State Fair, "How Hollywood Makes Movies." He was also looking into the possibility of opening a new club.

While Ruby's life is dotted with a handful of arrests (such as for disturbing the peace in 1949, and for allegedly permitting dancing after hours in 1955, a charge that was dismissed), he was not a criminal, nor (contrary to the imaginative claims of some) did he have any significant association with organized crime or its members.

Many take it for granted that if there was an assassination conspiracy, Jack Ruby must have been involved. In fact, many people believe there was a conspiracy precisely because of Ruby's murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, which had the effect -- intentional or otherwise -- of silencing the accused assassin.

But whether there was a conspiracy or not, there is no reason to assume that Ruby must have been involved. In fact, logic tells us that no conspiracy could profit by silencing Oswald in such a public fashion: What's the point of eliminating one suspect while simultaneously handing the police another? Also, were it Oswald's intention to "talk," he'd already had nearly 48 hours in which to do so. Every minute he waited only diminished the chance that others involved could be apprehended. By that time, any conspirators would have to assume he'd already spilled his guts.

Another factor to be considered is whether Ruby was the type of person to be entrusted with any responsibility, when a single word from him could have resulted in the arrest of others involved. Dallas reporter Tony Zoppi knew Ruby well and says one "would have to be crazy" to entrust Ruby with anything important, that 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."(2) "Jack Ruby would be the last one that I could ever trust to do anything," says Ruby's rabbi, Hillel Silverman.(3)

According to stripper Janet "Jada" Conforto, Ruby was "totally unpredictable. . . . Completely emotional. One minute he is nice, and the next minute he goes berserk. . . . I don't think he is sane."(4) American Guild of Variety Artists official Johnnie Hayden called Ruby a "kook" because of his unpredictable and erratic outbursts.(5) Edward Pullman, whose wife worked for Ruby, called him "insane. He was a psycho. . . . He was not right."(6) William Serur knew Ruby for over ten years and said, "In the last few years I thought he might have been suffering from some form of . . . mental disturbance, by the way he acted."(7)

Rabbi Silverman says, "He was a very volatile, a very emotional, unbalanced person. He thought he was doing the right thing [when he shot Oswald]. He loved Kennedy."(8) "I hope I killed the son of a bitch," Ruby said immediately afterwards to the Dallas police who arrested him. "It will save you guys a lot of trouble."(9) He told Assistant DA Bill Alexander, "Well, you guys couldn't do it. Someone had to do it. That son of a bitch killed my President."(10)

"Jack actually thought he might come out of this as a hero of sorts," says Alexander. "He thought he had erased any stigma the city had by knocking off Oswald."(11) Attorney Jim Martin spoke to Ruby soon after his arrest and says, "He never expected to spend a night in jail."(12)

In fact, when the crowd outside Dallas Police Department headquarters heard that Oswald had been shot, they burst into applause.(13)

In the decades since the nightclub owner emerged from the shadows to gun down Oswald, Ruby's life has become one of the most intensely scrutinized biographies in American history; yet not a shred of evidence has ever surfaced to link him to an assassination conspiracy. Is it really possible that Ruby covered his tracks so thoroughly?  

Article continues below.

 


Jack Ruby

 

What about the question of motive? Did Ruby really shoot Oswald because he wanted to spare Mrs. Kennedy the ordeal of Oswald's trial (as he stated on several occasions)? Or did he have a more obvious motive?

"Everybody has fantasies about wanting to be a hero," says James R. Leavelle, the homicide detective in the white hat who was handcuffed to Oswald at the moment Ruby emerged from the shadows. "Ruby told me an interesting thing when I was a patrolman," Leavelle recalls, "which didn't make any sense to me at the time, but it did after [Ruby shot Oswald]. He told me, 'I'd like to see two police officers sometime in a death struggle about to lose their lives, and I could jump in there and save them and be a hero.'"(14)

Leavelle accompanied Ruby when he was transferred from the city jail. He says, "When I transferred him, I told him when we were going down on the elevator, 'Jack, in all the years I've known you, you've never done anything to hurt a police officer, but you didn't do us any favors this time.'" Ruby replied, "Well, all I wanted to do was be a hero, and it looks like I just fouled things up." ("Except he used another word for it," notes Leavelle.)(15)

Sgt. Gerald Hill had known Ruby for over a decade at the time of the assassination. Hill says, "I think his calculating mind was going all the time on the assumption that 'I'll shoot Oswald. Public sentiment will get me off, and then I'll make a million bucks because everybody'll come to see the man that killed the man that killed the President!'"(16)

Police Captain W. R. Westbrook had also known Ruby for years. Westbrook says, "Ruby probably thought he was going to be a hero, maybe like John Wilkes Booth."(17)

Captain L. D. Montgomery, who also knew Ruby, concurs: "I think that he thought that if he killed the man that killed the President, then it would make him a hero and possibly some money."(18)

Then again, if Ruby's act was an impulsive one, as he claimed, then all his later explanations are, to some extent, after-the-fact rationalizations. Thus, "I did it for Mrs. Kennedy" may be no more or less accurate than "I did it to show the world that Jews have guts," or "That rat killed my President!" or "You guys [the Dallas police] couldn't do it!" or "I only wanted to be a hero" - all of which (and more) he reportedly said soon after the shooting, and all of which, to some extent, may well be true.

Through "certain falsehoods that have been said about me," Ruby lamented to Chief Justice Earl Warren during his Warren Commission deposition, "I am as good as guilty as the accused assassin of President Kennedy." He asked, "How can you remedy that, Mr. Warren? Do any of you men have any ways of remedying that?"(19)

Decades later, no answer is in sight . . . and no thanks to Oliver Stone.(20)

 

Did Ruby know more about Oswald than
Dallas DA Henry Wade did? Click here.

 

Copyright © 2001 by David Reitzes

 

You may wish to see . . .

The JFK 100: Jack Ruby's Warren Commission Testimony

The JFK 100: Jack Ruby Injected with Cancer

More on Jack Ruby and conspiracy allegations

 

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NOTES:

1. Biographical data taken from the Warren Commission Report, pp. 779-801.

2. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), pp. 361, 399, citing his interview with Tony Zoppi of November 19, 1992.

3. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 399. Rabbi Silverman was one of Ruby's closest confidantes following his arrest, first meeting with him on November 25, then roughly once or twice a week thereafter until Silverman moved to Los Angeles in July 1964. Silverman happened also to be friendly with Warren Commission junior counsel David W. Belin; the two had met during the summer of 1963, during a study mission to Israel. On one of Belin's first trips to Dallas on behalf of the commission, he asked Silverman his opinion as to whether Ruby was a part of a conspiracy. "Jack Ruby is absolutely innocent of any conspiracy," Silverman unhesitatingly replied. (David W. Belin, Final Disclosure [New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988], pp. 35-37.)

4. El Paso Herald Post, January 1, 1964; Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 359.

5. Warren Commission Exhibit No. 1449; Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 359.

6. Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XV, p. 228; Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 359.

7. Warren Commission Exhibit No. 2411; Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 359.

8. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 399.

9. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. V, p. 245; Vol. XIII, p. 308; Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 398.

10. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 399, citing his personal interview with Bill Alexander, March 12, 1992.

11. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 399, citing his personal interview with Bill Alexander, March 12, 1992.

12. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 399.

13. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York: Random House, 1993), p. 399 fn.

14. Larry A. Sneed, No More Silence (Dallas: Three Forks, 1998), p. 402.

15. Larry A. Sneed, No More Silence (Dallas: Three Forks, 1998), p. 402.

16. Larry A. Sneed, No More Silence (Dallas: Three Forks, 1998), p. 301.

17. Larry A. Sneed, No More Silence (Dallas: Three Forks, 1998), p. 323.

18. Larry A. Sneed, No More Silence (Dallas: Three Forks, 1998), p. 422.

19. Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. V, p. 211.

20. Another persistent notion involving Ruby is the hypothesis that he did not enter the Dallas Police Department's basement unaided via the ramp from the street, as he claimed, but rather gained entry to the basement through one of several doorways due to the collusion of an unknown police officer. Researcher Joshua Holman pointed out to me that this claim is floated in Oliver Stone's JFK, as Jim Garrison tells the Clay Shaw trial jury:

 

Under the guise of a patriotic nightclub owner out to spare Jackie Kennedy from having to testify at a trial, Jack Ruby is shown into the underground garage by one of his inside men on the Dallas Police Force, and when he's ready Oswald is brought out like a sacrificial lamb and nicely disposed of as an enemy of the people. (Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film [New York: Applause, 1992], p. 176. The quotation is from the shooting script and may vary slightly from the finished motion picture.)

 

The documented screenplay cites no source for the claim that Ruby had "inside men on the Dallas Police Force," much less that any such individuals assisted him. The screenwriters may be distorting the conclusions of the House Select Committee that reinvestigated the case in the late 1970s. The HSCA's Final Report states:

 

Based on a review of the evidence, albeit circumstantial, the committee believed that Ruby's shooting of Oswald was not a spontaneous act, in that it involved at least some premeditation. Similarly, the Committee believed that 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 assistance may have been in the form of information about plans for Oswald's transfer or aid in entering the building or both. . . . 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 . . .

 

In an interview conducted from his deathbed in 1967, Ruby continued to insist he had no assistance in his act, and that he had not acted as part of a conspiracy. No credible evidence has ever surfaced to contradict him.

 

 

You may wish to see . . .

The JFK 100: Jack Ruby's Warren Commission Testimony

The JFK 100: Jack Ruby Injected with Cancer

 

Back to the top

Back to The JFK 100

Back to Oliver Stone's JFK

Back to Jim Garrison menu

Back to JFK menu

 

Search this site
 
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Dave Reitzes home page