Ruby Shoots Oswald
Ruby Shoots Oswald
Photographic Evidence of the Moment of Crime
By: Robert H. Jackson
Date: November 24, 1963
Source: Robert H. Jackson. "Ruby Shoots Oswald." November 24, 1963.
About the Photographer: At the time surrounding the events of the John F. Kennedy assassination, Dallas native Robert H. Jackson was a 29-year-old staff photographer for the Dallas Times Herald. His photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald's subsequent murder won Jackson the Pulitzer Prize in 1964.
When President John F. Kennedy was shot dead in downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963, it took officers just hours to arrest his murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald, a violent and delusional left-wing activist. Oswald was found hiding in a Dallas cinema having earlier shot dead a police officer who had tried to arrest him. He was taken to the Dallas police department where he was detained and questioned.
Inevitably, the assassination of Kennedy sent the western world into mourning. Millions were deeply affected by the death of the glamorous young president, turning to fledgling round-the-clock news broadcasts to follow the unfolding story. One such man, Jack Ruby, a small-time Dallas mobster, was deeply upset by Kennedy's murder, "unable, " he told the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination, "to stop crying."
The day after the Kennedy murder and amidst lax security, Ruby hung around the Dallas Police Department and also the Dallas Times newsroom, claiming to be a translator for the Israeli press. The Warren Commission was unable to clarify whether his presence around the epicenter of the world's biggest news story tipped him towards his act of violent vigilantism, but the following day Jack Ruby was to enter history with an act almost as notorious as that carried out by Oswald himself.
On Sunday, November 24, after only a few hours sleep, Ruby arose in a nervous state, mumbling to himself and pacing the floor. He would later tell the Commission that he had seen in the paper a "heartbreaking letter" to President Kennedy's six-year-old daughter Caroline, and that "alongside that letter on the same sheet of paper was a small comment in the newspaper that, I don't know how it was stated, that Mrs. Kennedy may have to come back for the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald."
At approximately 11 a.m. he left his apartment armed with a revolver. First he drove to the point where Kennedy had been shot and looked at wreaths scattered along the street before driving to the Western Union office. Here he paid for a telegram (his receipt was stamped 11:17 a.m.) before walking in the direction of the police department building where Oswald was being held. At 11:21 a.m., as police officers were preparing to take Oswald to the county jail, Ruby emerged from a crowd of police and journalists and shot and fatally wounded Lee Harvey Oswald.
RUBY SHOOTS OSWALD
See primary source image.
The murder of Lee Harvey Oswald was captured live on American television and seen by millions both at the time and over subsequent days. Jack Ruby, who was arrested immediately in the full glare of the cameras, claimed that his action served as proof that "Jews have guts" and was vindication for the city of Dallas. At his trial in spring 1964, at which he was found guilty and sentenced to death by electric chair (the death sentence was later struck down on appeal), he pleaded insanity. However, he testified before the Warren Commission later on that year and claimed that he shot Oswald because he didn't want Kennedy's widow to have to go through with the ordeal of a trial.
In late 1966, while on his deathbed, Ruby gave another recorded testimony. This time he ascribed the murder to destiny, saying: "The ironic part of this is I had made an illegal turn behind a bus to the parking lot. Had I gone the way I was supposed to go—straight down Main Street—I would've never met this fate, because the difference in meeting this fate was thirty seconds one way or the other." Ruby died of a pulmonary embolism on January 4, 1967.
Inevitably, Ruby's dramatic intervention in the Kennedy assassination has seen his role and life investigated in minute detail. He has also been cast in an entire gamut of conspiracy theories. Of principle interest was Ruby's role in the American underworld. He had started out as an enforcer of Al Capone in prohibition-era Chicago and at the time of the Kennedy assassination was running a Dallas strip club. This invariably led to the conclusion that Ruby had somehow been involved in a mafia plot to kill Kennedy and had been deployed to kill Oswald, lest he reveal who had put him up to the killing when it came to trial.
The Warren Commission, which ruled out the involvement of a third party in the Kennedy killing, found no evidence to support this claim. Likewise it rejected claims that the Dallas Police Department had been complicit in Oswald's death by allowing Ruby into its building. Nor did it find any evidence that Ruby had been involved in either left wing or right wing plots to kill the president. It also ruled out that Ruby and Oswald had had a homosexual affair and this had somehow served as motivation. Instead, it concluded that "Ruby was regarded by most persons who knew him as moody and unstable—hardly one to have encouraged the confidence of persons involved in a sensitive political conspiracy."
In fact the truth about Jack Ruby is probably no more complicated than that: like the man he killed, he was violent and delusional and somehow saw his actions as righteous. According to his attorney he genuinely believed he would spend no more than a night in jail and after his arrest he had told the Assistant District Attorney, Bill Alexander, "Well, you guys couldn't do it. Someone had to do it. That son of a bitch killed my President." Thirty years later, Alexander told author Gerald Posner: "Jack actually thought he might come out of this as a hero of sorts. He thought he had erased any stigma the city had by knocking off Oswald."
Dallek, Robert. John F. Kennedy: An Unfinished Life. London: Penguin, 2004.
Posner, Gerald. Case Closed. New York: Random House, 1993.
"The Man Who Killed Oswald." Time (December 6, 1963).