Ruby, John ("Jack")

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RUBY, John ("Jack")

(b. 25 March 1911 in Chicago, Illinois; d. 3 January 1967 in Dallas, Texas), nightclub owner who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumed assassin of President John F. Kennedy, in 1963.

Ruby, born Jacob Rubenstein, was the fifth of eight living children of Joseph Rubenstein, a Polish immigrant carpenter, and Fannie Turek Rutkowski, a homemaker. Although the exact month and day of his birth are somewhat vague, the date Ruby most often cited was 25 March. Ruby grew up in a series of poor Jewish neighborhoods in Chicago. By the age of eleven Ruby was showing antisocial tendencies in the form of truancy and misconduct at home; the Jewish Social Service Bureau referred him to the Institute for Juvenile Research. Characterized as "quick tempered" and "disobedient," Ruby was placed temporarily in foster homes but eventually returned to his family. Ruby's only legal difficulty as a youth, however, resulted from an altercation with a policeman about ticket scalping. Ruby attended several schools in Chicago and is believed to have completed the eighth grade, but he probably did not attend high school.

After leaving school, Ruby drifted, working for a while in San Francisco, where he made money selling "tip" sheets at Bay Meadows racetrack and newspaper subscriptions door-to-door. He eventually returned to Chicago and started the Spartan Novelty Company. He was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Force on 21 May 1943 and spent his military career at bases in the South until he was honorably discharged on 21 February 1946. After the war he briefly went into the novelty business with his brother Earl and then moved to Dallas in late 1947. Over the next fifteen years, Ruby made his living primarily by operating nightclubs and dance halls.

On 22 November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade traveled through Dallas. Within two hours of the assassination, police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald outside a Dallas movie theatre and charged him with the crime. On 24 November 1963 Ruby made his way up an auto ramp into the basement of the Dallas City Jail and placed himself among the reporters, photographers, and others who had gathered to witness Oswald's transfer to the county jail. As the police walked Oswald through the basement, Ruby emerged from the crowd and shot and killed Oswald as millions watched on national television.

By the early 1960s, Ruby had gained a reputation as a man with a violent temper. According to the Warren Commission, which was charged with investigating the Kennedy assassination, Ruby's relationships with his employees were often violent; records show that he often hit or beat people with whom he had disagreements. He was also reported to have beaten, pistol-whipped, or blackjacked unruly patrons at the two strip clubs in which he held interests, the Carousel Club and the Vegas Club. During an incident in February 1963, Ruby badly beat someone who had made some remarks about a woman accompanying him, but he was acquitted of assault charges. By 1963 Ruby's record included eight arrests for a variety of reasons, including disturbing the peace, carrying a concealed weapon, and violating state liquor laws. On 12 February 1963, Ruby was arrested on a charge of simple assault but was found not guilty. He was also arrested on 14 March 1963 for ignoring traffic summonses.

Noted attorney Melvin Belli defended Ruby with a temporary insanity plea, arguing that Ruby had "psychomotor epilepsy," which allowed him to function physically while he was, for all intents and purposes, unconscious. The jury convicted Ruby of murder on 14 March 1964 and sentenced him to death. However, in October 1966 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction, citing improper admission of testimony and saying that a change of venue should have been ordered. Although a new trial was scheduled to take place in Wichita Falls, Texas, Ruby contracted pneumonia and was admitted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas on 9 December 1966. Further tests revealed that he had terminal lung cancer, and he died in the hospital from a blood clot in his lungs. He is buried in Chicago.

With the death of Oswald, it did not take long for conspiracy theories about the president's assassination to begin developing. Ruby vehemently denied any involvement in a conspiracy aimed at silencing Oswald so that the accused assassin could not reveal information about possible coconspirators in Kennedy's assassination. Conspiracy theorists point to the fact that Ruby was supposedly involved in organized crime and had visited Cuba in 1959, which was construed as suspicious, since the Kennedy Administration had severely strained relations with the Castro government. The Bay of Pigs invasion on 17 April 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 assured at best an armed truce between the two countries.

Nevertheless, the 1964 Warren Commission report stated that no evidence existed that Ruby was part of a larger conspiracy. As for Ruby, he always maintained that he shot Oswald partly from grief and outrage. The Rockefeller Commission, which was established to investigate the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1975, also found no evidence of an association between the CIA and either Ruby or Oswald, which some conspiracy theorists had maintained.

Many of Ruby's family and friends who testified before the Warren Commission told of his unusual generosity and described him as an extremely emotional person who often overreacted to people in distress. He was also described as a "publicity hound," "glad hander," and "name dropper" who always wanted to be the center of attention. Ruby was at the offices of the Morning News to place an advertisement for his club when he heard of Kennedy's assassination; he became upset and turned his advertisement into a tribute to the president. Although conspiracy theories have never died out completely, most experts agree that Ruby, who was capable of abrupt and violent reactions and who was obviously upset after the president's assassination, acted on an irrational impulse when he shot Oswald.

Two biographies of Ruby are Garry Wills and Ovid Demaris, Jack Ruby (1968), and Seth Kantor, Who Was Jack Ruby? (1978). Detailed information about Ruby's murder of Oswald in relation to President Kennedy's assassination can be found in the Warren Commission records, which are housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. An obituary is in the New York Times (4 Jan. 1967).

David Petechuk