Jack Ruby: the man who killed the man who killed The Man. From Dallas nightclub owner and petty criminal to American folk hero to potential conspirator, Jack Ruby's life is a strange one, full of coincidences, incidences, melodrama, and best of all, intrigue.
Ruby was born Jacob Rubenstein in Chicago some time in the spring of 1911 (conflicting reports put it anywhere from March 11 to April 23) to Polish Jews. His father was an alcoholic carpenter, and his mother never learned English. There was frequent domestic violence, although Ruby's older brother Joseph claims that the children were never subjected to abuse.
By his 11th birthday, Jack had already been sent to a juvenile detention center for truancy and violence. He was temporarily sent to live in a foster home for four years until he was returned to his mother by the courts after she separated from her husband. Don't be fooled: Jack's mother was even more quarrelsome and abusive to the children than their father ever had been.
By 1927 Jack, at 16, had dropped out of school and was scalping tickets to the local sports game to make money. He had occasional altercations with the police, although he was never arrested. He had also picked up the nickname "Sparky," a shortened version of his spark plug temper.
The Young Man
Ruby moved to Los Angeles in 1933, where he worked various jobs: a singing waiter, a racetrack bookie, and eventually as a door-to-door salesman for local newspapers. By 1937, though, he had washed out, and moved back to Chicago. Here he found his mother had taken on the disturbing quality of neurosis - she was convinced a fishbone was lodged in her throat, although two operations and years of hospital visits showed otherwise. (Honestly!) He and his 7 brothers and sisters chose to have her admitted, and she spent the next 12 years of her life in and out of mental hospitals in the area.
Ruby continued to make ends meet by hustling tickets and tip-sheets on the street. He also became active in a local labor union, organizing protests and passing out pamphlets. Although the government was interested in the Mafia's role in the unions, there is no evidence Ruby was involved in any shady dealings while action on behalf of the union. At this time, Ruby went through several failed business ventures, including selling commemorative Pearl Harbor plaques after the December 7, 1941 attack, and gambling punchboards. He eventually ended up working for Universal Sales Company as a sales manager.
Jack was very proud of his Jewish heritage: he frequently attacked groups and people whom he thought were pro-Nazi or anti-Semitic. He was also quite the ladies' man, often seen around town with a different woman every weekend. He was a health nut who spent 20 hours a week at the gym, and he frequently hung out at the local boxing rings with promoters and boxers alike. Again, there is no evidence of any illegal wrongdoings on his part.
When World War II first began, Jack was classified as 1-H - at 28, he was too old to be eligible for the draft. When that was abolished in 1942, he was re-classified as 3-A - others were financially dependent on him. However, this was later rescinded, and Ruby was enlisted into the United States Air Force in 1943. He was an expert marksman, earning several commendations, but never actually entered the war, and was honorably discharged in 1946 as a private first class.
Upon returning from the war, Jack set up business with his brothers Earl and Hyman, selling small promotional items such as keychains, salt and pepper shakers, punchboards, screwdrivers, and bottle openers. He frequently let his temper get the best of him, fighting anyone who called him names or insulted his Jewish heritage.
Jack's sister Eva had began a nightclub in Dallas with financial backing from her brothers in 1946. In 1947, a shady character named Paul Roland Jones, who had done business with Eva and Jack, was arrested on narcotics charges. Although Jack, Eva, and his brothers were all interrogated for their relationship with Jones, no indictments or censures came as a result. Later that year, Jack moved full-time to Dallas. On December 30, he legally filed to change his name to "Jack Ruby."
When Eva moved out to California, she left Jack with power of attorney privileges of her club. He renamed it the Silver Spur Club, and it served as a major dancehall in West Dallas. By 1952, Jack had made enough money to open a new club: the Bob Wills Ranch House, a western-styled nightclub. However, this club did not do as well, and Jack sold his interests in both clubs and retreated to Chicago for 2 months. When the call came with an offer to buy back the Silver Spur, he accepted.
Ruby continued to open clubs and buy and sell interests in many others throughout the Dallas area in the 1950's: many of his associates were known gamblers and criminals, and Jack was constantly in debt with his brothers and other businessmen in the area, attempting to run several nightclubs. By 1960 his primary nightclub was The Carousel Club, a striptease joint that also served pizza.
Here Ruby's temper and general lack of good standing began to appear. He frequently delayed or put stops on paychecks, used abusive and obscene language with his employees, and on one occasion, beat up a hired musician with brass knuckles. In 1955, Ruby lost the top half of his left index finger when it was bitten off in a fight with an employee.
During this time from 1947 to 1963, it is alleged that Ruby made trips to, among other places, Las Vegas, Havana, New Orleans, and Mexico City. The nature of these trips are not expressly clear, although most of them on the surface appear to be business trips to get money and loan extensions and to have meetings with fellow businessmen. Ruby was also in tax trouble with the government, mostly for incorrect tax return filings in the 1950s.
Ruby continued his spouts of violence, frequently beating up men bigger and stronger than himself (he was only 5'9") and jostling people he felt were slighting him for his religion. There is no evidence that Ruby was particularly fond of or had ever used a firearm before his shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, although he did own a pistol for security purposes, which he kept onsite at the club.
Ruby was arrested 8 times between his arrival in 1947 and his 9th arrest, for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, in November 1963. He was arrested on a variety of charges, from disturbing the peace to allowing dancing after hours to carrying a concealed weapon. In all cases, he either paid a fine or the charges were dismissed, except in February 1963, when he was found not guilty on charges of simple assault. Ruby was also consistently in trouble with the state's alcohol commission, being temporarily suspended (3 to 10 days) for a variety of violations throughout his time in Dallas.
According to the Warren Commission Report, Ruby was "extremely fond of dogs." There's no relevance, but that Warren Commission sure was thorough, huh?
After Lee Harvey Oswald's arrest for the murder, he was taken to a holding cell in the city jail and grilled for several hours. Here, another inmate, John Elrod, alleges that Oswald talked to him, implicating Ruby with another of the inmates, Lawrence Miller. He saw them together in part of a large payoff at a nearby Dallas motel a few days before. The payoff was allegedly for stolen weapons, although Elrod's testimony is tainted because it was told in a drunken stupor and has no corroboration.
Ruby actually participated in most of the press conferences taking place in the area - from Parkland Hospital to the assassination site, he was there, serving food, acting as a press agent at times, and even once correcting a policeman as to Oswald's affiliation with the Free Cuba movement.
The transfer of Oswald from the city jail to the county jail was supposed to take place on November 24 at 10 AM, but lead detective, Captain Will Fritz, continued to grill Oswald, delaying the transfer. During this time, Ruby received a phone call from one of his strippers in Forth Worth who needed money. Ruby headed over to a Western Union near the police station on Elm Street - he couldn't have missed the swarm of reporters waiting for the transfer. He wired the money, according to the bill, at 11:17 AM. 3 minutes later, he pulled his pistol on Oswald and fired one shot, hitting him in the upper abdomen. Oswald died less than an hour later.
When asked why he did it, Ruby said it was to "relieve Jackie of the stress" of offering her testimony at "that creep" Oswald's trial. Others still pointed to his temper and his family history of mental illness. And, of course, there were the obvious cries of conspiracy. Ruby himself admitted that he was afraid for his own life - because the John Birch Society was spreading info that he was part of a Jewish conspiracy to kill the President and cover it up.
Ruby thought of himself to be a national hero: upon hearing the news of Oswald's shooting, the crowd outside the jail had cheered loudly. The trial brought a very different picture to the table. The mayor of Dallas proclaimed that Ruby was a "disgrace" to the town. Soon people began talking about the death penalty. And accusations of a conspiracy rose out of the woodwork. It was too much for Ruby. He tried to electrocute himself in his cell via his light bulb socket, and then tried to hang himself with his sheets.
The trial was mercilessly brief, and Ruby was sentenced to death in April of 1964. In September of that year, the Warren Commission released their report, exonerating Ruby of being part of any conspiracy involving the assassination. The Texas Supreme Court overruled the sentencing in June of 1965, claiming that the venue had been inappropriate and that emotions were running too high. By then, Ruby had already begun to fade away. He died January 3, 1967 of severe cerebral hemorrhaging, before he was retried. An autopsy revealed he had 15 brain tumors, a major sign of mental illness.
So was Jack Ruby involved in any conspiracy? Common wisdom says no: all of his friends say Jack was never one to keep a secret, and that he was proud to be an American. Others still, such as New Orleans attorney Jim Garrison, felt that he was part of a conspiracy that used him as an unwilling pawn. The truth, it seems, may never be known, and Jack Ruby's mystery and legacy will live on through the ages, as the man whose gun bred a thousand questions.
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