Was Jack Ruby a Gunrunner?In Jack Ruby, Garry Wills and Ovid Demaris discuss a witness known to the research community by the name she gave the Warren Commission: Nancy Perrin Rich. The following is excerpted from Wills and Demaris, 1994 ed., pp. 240-46:
The Testimony of Nancy Perrin Rich
Jack Ruby, amateur cop, has had many imitators in the years since he killed Oswald. They pursue him as imaginatively as he hunted Bernard Weissman. He would recognize the type. Police buffs, who like to give information. Some even seem his Doppelgangers -- a woman, for instance, who has been arrested for carrying a gun, who likes to help out cops, who has lived in the seamy club world yet strives for class. She boasts of all the important people she knows; she became as persistent in her efforts to help the Warren Commission as Jack was to help Henry Wade [the weekend of the assassination]. Her name changes frequently, but its most stable element is Nancy. We will call her that.
On June 1, 1964, an FBI agent took Nancy a plane ticket, paid for by the Commission, and drove her out to Logan Airport. The man saw a thirtyish woman, very nervous, with obtrusive facial tics, quick in her speech, articulate despite a minor lisp, and full of information -- on the family of Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia (for which she served as interpreter, since she speaks five languages, including two dialects of Arabic), on the civil rights movement (she is prominent in CORE), on her lifelong career as an undercover agent for various district attorneys and the FBI, on counterfeit cases she has cracked, on the difficulty she is having as a housewife (after her exciting days underground), on her first husband (a writer) and her present one (too old for her).
Next day, testifying in Washington, she revealed an even more extensive range of accomplishments. She was trained to be an IBM operator; she is a writer who has published under a pen name. As an advertising executive, she just "ran" a recent convention. She was almost hired as a boat hand, to run guns into Cuba, because of her extensive acquaintance with lobster boats. Everything else paled, however, by comparison with her few brief months in Dallas, when she worked for Jack Ruby as a bartender; was fired; became a prostitute; joined a group that would bring exiles out of Cuba; attended three meetings, at one of which (the second one) Jack Ruby arrived, said "Hi" to several people but went directly to a back room, then came out disencumbered of something that bulged his jacket, and silently left. At this meeting, Nancy found out the Cuban adventure was pro-Castro, and she was too patriotic to go further in the plot; she only went to a third meeting to get information for the authorities (she is, after all, a trained undercover agent of the FBI). But when she recognized Vito Genovese's son at this third meeting (not from anything said there, but because she had once seen a picture -- not of Vito's son, it is true, but of Vito himself), she became so frightened for her personal safety that she and her husband fled Dallas and said nothing more -- until Ruby killed Oswald. Once she did speak out, she was followed by suspicious cars (but perhaps that was for breaking up an abortion ring) and received threatening phone calls meant to deter her from testifying.
The Warren Commission reprints this fascinating testimony (baroquely figured over with subsidiary plots and police work Nancy has been prominent in), but the Report of conclusions reached by the Commission omits all mention of Nancy. Mr. Mark Lane finds this a proof of the Commission's remissness, and tries to mend the error (or worse) by devoting a whole chapter of his book to the rich leads furnished by this single witness.
That makes all the more striking Mr. Lane's own remissness. He does not mention several stories just as interesting as Nancy's, and intimately connected with hers.
Take the Oakland phone call. It came to the California office of the FBI a mere three days after Ruby killed Oswald. A girl known as "Julie" had information about Ruby. Could she bring it in to them? She arrived five minutes after the phone was put down. Her story was important. Agents went over it several times, at her home and in their offices, during the next week. This woman had been a "lobbyist" in New Hampshire, playing "hostess" to legislators who might vote in favor of various liquor firms. She knew J. D. Tippit; she too had worked for Ruby, and attended meetings of a group meant to run guns into Cuba and exiles out. But Ruby attended more than one of the meetings she was at; he even made an impassioned pro-Castro speech, pounding the table and getting red in the face. Mr. Lane, for some reason, does not mention this important story, though it was told immediately after the events of 1963.
Perhaps he does not do so because this witness's testimony has so many internal contradictions. At one session, she told agents she had been to four meetings (Ruby present at three); at another, it was three (Ruby present at two). In one and the same interview. she said that she had fought with Ruby, and quit working for him, before any of the meetings took place -- only to add that she was fired between the second and third meetings because Ruby caught her looking through the keyhole of his office while he talked to a Chicago hood named Nick. But such contradictions must not trouble Lane. Nancy herself gave, in her Washington testimony, two entirely different reasons for her departure from Ruby's employ -- first, he decided he did not need a bartender (a strange decision for one running a champagne club); then, when he decided that he did want one, she returned (in a matter of a week or so) and got fired because she did not keep the glasses clean enough.
Perhaps Mr. Lane does not rely on the Oakland witness because her polygraph test (taken December 5, 1963) indicated to the operator that she was lying -- though the test could not yield clear-cut results because the witness suffered from chorea (St. Vitus's dance) and low blood pressure, and took several drugs for these ailments, and had a history of psychiatric disturbance (attempted suicide, commitment to a state hospital's psychiatric ward). Nonetheless, this story is so relevant to Nancy's that it deserved some mention in his chapter. As a matter of fact, this witness resembles Nancy in many ways. She, too, knows important people -- Jacqueline Kennedy, for instance, and Teddy Kennedy (with whom she danced at Harvard).
Nor is that the end of such witnesses. The Oakland caller did not know anything about the route of the rifles her group meant to smuggle into Cuba. An important link was added to the story when a witness called from Boston, early in 1964, to report that she had attended pro-Castro meetings at which Jack Ruby showed up; and this witness knew where the rifles were to be gathered -- in Guadalajara, Furthermore, this witness had also seen Vito Genovese -- well, no; she guessed, after all, it was only his son. Not at the Cuban meeting, however, like Nancy. She saw Genovese fils at The Carousel Club talking to Jack Ruby. This witness, too, knows important people -- including a prominent politician who is about to get her pardoned from a prostitution charge.
Amazingly, Mr. Lane is mum on this corroborative witness linking Jack Ruby with Cuba -- absolutely mum, even though she added vital information not supplied by the other two. Well, not so amazingly: he must neglect these stories (close as they seem to the version he places so much reliance on) -- because they were all told by the same girl. What would be corroborative coming from three different witnesses is destructive of all credibility when the same girl rushes forward with tales so disparate.
Nancy, in whichever of her many guises, is an unfortunate young woman -- one who left high school to get married at seventeen, had a child (whose whereabouts she no longer knows), was divorced at nineteen, attempted suicide at twenty; married again, but saw her husband only in intervals of his psychiatric care, and separated after eight months; at twenty-three, got a Mexican divorce and married her "first" husband of the Logan Airport conversation -- a "writer" who also had a history of psychiatric treatment and who killed himself, with arsenic, in 1962. This man had as colorful a mind as Nancy's own. He told her he had been a mercenary on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, piloting a boat that ran guns to the armies -- all at the age of sixteen. He knew many prominent gangsters. This is the husband Nancy somehow lost track of in Boston, though he left a note saying he would be in Dallas (he was not). Nancy called the police to see if he was there; then came to Dallas, though he was not there. Guess who answered her phone call? J. D. Tippit. When she came to Dallas, she went straight to the police station. Guess who was the first man she saw behind the desk? Good old J. D. Nancy's stories preserve an admirable economy; most of the cast is known from other contexts. In a space of three or four or five months, she works for three or four clubs, including two months at The Carousel. From Dallas, she and her husband (retrieved, at some point, from South Bend, where he has been living, Nancy tells us, "with my secretary") move to New Orleans, where the writer dies. Nancy, alone again at twenty-six (except for four children scattered somewhere), goes to California and, by her own account, helps various district attorneys solve crimes, using the name Julie Ann Cody. She marries a fourth time in 1964, a fifth time in 1966.
Mr. Lane's Nancy is, by comparison with the real one, a very sedate creature. He tells us only this about her background (in such a way that any irregularity actually contributes to her credibility): she "frankly told Commission counsel that for two years she had led a disturbed and unsound life." (Two!) With a great sense of decorum, he clears her tale of messy inconsistencies (she jumps back and forth between 1961 and 1962 for the time when she was in Dallas -- Mr. Lane sticks to one year, the wrong one, 1962) and unartistic extravagances (J. D. is a little too much for anyone to swallow, so he simply disappears from Lane's account -- though he is surely "relevant" by standards Lane uses elsewhere; he loves to arrange meetings between principals in the assassination).
A discreet veil is drawn across Vito Genovese's son and Nancy's strange way of recognizing him. It sounds much better this way: "At the third meeting a person was present whom [Nancy] thought she recognized as someone associated with syndicated crime." Nothing wild about that is there? Lane neglects not only Nancy's earlier sworn statements, and multiple depositions, and phone calls, and polygraph test. He omits the background to her story supplied in the Washington testimony itself. Although she claims she worked as a bartender not only at The Carousel but also at Barney's Theatre Lounge, none of the dancers, musicians, or waitresses we talked to knew her under any of her several names -- or even remembered a woman bartender at The Carousel. Nancy's account of her work at The Carousel is ludicrously vague or inexact. Asked what time she went to work every day for two months, she said it was at three -- or four -- or five -- or six -- or seven. (Safe enough.) She always calls Ruby "Mr. Ruby" (we never heard an employee call him anything but "Jack") and claims he regularly wore a shoulder holster (he did not). She remembers none of her addresses in Dallas; she never heard of Ralph Paul; at first she does not recognize Andrew Armstrong's name, then vaguely recalls him as her helper at the bar -- "You don't notice people like that" (Andrew never heard of her or worked for Jack other than as bartender himself). Her chronology fluctuates wildly from sentence to sentence, marriages and divorces and childbirths slipping forward or backward on the scale of years. None of the references she gave called her reliable. The lawyer she called a personal friend described her as "an habitual liar." Police agencies to which she applied as a paid informer never used her more than once, and said they could not trust her -- she had a habit of solving nonexistent crimes committed by all the famous gangsters.
Poor Nancy, the Pasionaria of some Warren critics, would hardly deserve mention were it not for Mr. Lane's deft presentation of her as a dire threat to Commission findings. Mr. Lane told us he was very impressed with her and placed great reliance on her memory -- something she must have sensed, for she revealed to him that the apartment at which the Cuba meetings took place had an ammunition depot, "probably half a dozen land mines, and, why, twenty or thirty packing cases of hand grenades." Why did she omit this in her Warren testimony? She did not leave it out -- Mr. Griffin told the reporter to strike it from the record. (Her deposition ends with the question, "Is it not a fact that all that has occurred between you and me in this interview, with Mr. Griffin, is on the record?" To which Nancy answered, "That is correct.")
We tried to talk to Nancy, but her present husband pleaded with us not to do so: "There's a couple of kids involved here." (We respected his wish; that is why we do not use her present name.) But what does he think of his wife's interview with Mark Lane? "Well, I talked to Lane, and I asked him at the time of the interview what he thought of it, and he told me he didn't see how he could use any of it. Then that book comes out." He added that the Warren Commission judged her story better than Mr. Lane did: "She is very nervous and imaginative. Things build up pretty easy like."
Nancy, so anxious to please the cops, so easily used by others, wanting fame and being maneuvered into notoriety, an instrument, now, for attacking Ruby -- she reminds us of Sheriff Decker's words: "I've got two hundred men in that jail; and there's probably another Jack Ruby among them -- one who would take a crack at him to be a hero." It is even more depressing to reflect that there are men ready to prod on and exploit this drab endless series of displaced people who can be duped onto the stage of history.
The former attorney of hers cited above called Rich "an habitual liar, who found it difficult to tell the truth . . . continually telling wild tales concerning her exploits or the exploits of others. These stories were so ridiculous that no one could possibly believe them."(1)
Click here for more on Nancy Perrin Rich.
Rumors of Ruby's alleged gunrunning career seem to be based primarily upon two items of evidence: (1) the information -- volunteered by Ruby himself to the Warren Commission -- that in 1959, he had placed a onetime order for a shipment of four handguns to Lewis McWillie in Cuba,(2) and (2) the testimony of Nancy Perrin Rich.
P.S. In 1968, Jim Garrison was about to issue an arrest warrant charging Robert Perrin with conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy until Harold Weisberg convinced him that Perrin had indeed joined the Choir Eternal in 1962.
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1. Warren Commission Exhibit No. 3059 (Warren Commission Hearings Vol. XXVI, 617); House Select Committee Hearings Vol. IX, 188.
2. Warren Commission Hearings Vol. V, 201; Warren Report, 812; House Select Committee Hearings Vol. IX, 803. The gun dealer named by Ruby, Ray Brantley, said he did not recall such a transaction; Lewis McWillie said the same.
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