Jacob Leon Rubenstein (March 25, 1911 – January 3, 1967), who legally changed his name to Jack Leon Ruby in 1947, was convicted of the November 24, 1963, murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Ruby, who was originally from Chicago, Illinois, was then a nightclub operator in Dallas, Texas. Convicted of the murder on March 14, 1964, Ruby appealed the conviction and death sentence. As a date for his new trial was being set, he became ill and died of lung cancer on January 3, 1967.
Ruby was involved with major figures in organized crime; conspiracy theorists claim that he killed Oswald as part of an overall plot surrounding the assassination of Kennedy. Others have disputed this, arguing that his connection with gangsters was minimal at most and that he was not the sort to be entrusted with such an act within a high-level conspiracy.
Alleged links to organized crime
Ruby was known to have been acquainted with both the police and the Mafia. The House Select Committee on Assassinations said that Ruby had known restaurateurs Sam (1920–1970) and Joseph Campisi (1918–1990) since 1947, and had been seen with them on many occasions. After an investigation of Joe Campisi, the HSCA found:
While Campisi's technical characterization in federal law enforcement records as an organized crime member has ranged from definite to suspected to negative, it is clear that he was an associate or friend of many Dallas-based organized crime members, particularly Joseph Civello, during the time he was the head of the Dallas organization. There was no indication that Campisi had engaged in any specific organized crime-related activities.
Similarly, a PBS Frontline investigation into the connections between Ruby and Dallas organized crime figures reported the following:
In 1963, Sam and Joe Campisi were leading figures in the Dallas underworld. Jack knew the Campisis and had been seen with them on many occasions. The Campisis were lieutenants of Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss who had reportedly talked of killing the President.
A day before Kennedy was assassinated, Ruby went to Joe Campisi's restaurant.
At the time of the Kennedy assassination, Ruby was close enough to the Campisis to ask them to come see him after he was arrested for shooting Lee Oswald.
In his memoir Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story, Bill Bonanno, son of New York Mafia boss Joseph Bonanno, explains that several Mafia families had longstanding ties with the anti-Castro Cubans through the Havana casinos operated by the Mafia before the Cuban Revolution. Many Cuban exiles and Mafia bosses disliked Kennedy, blaming him for the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.
They also disliked his brother, the young and idealistic Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had conducted an unprecedented legal assault on organized crime.
The Mafia were experts in assassination, and Bonanno reported that he recognized the high degree of involvement of other Mafia families when Ruby killed Oswald, since Bonanno was aware that Ruby was an associate of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana.
Howard P. Willens, third highest official in the Department of Justice and assistant counsel to J. Lee Rankin designed the organizational structure of the Warren Commission, outlined its investigative priorities, and terminated the investigation of Ruby's Cuban related activities.
An FBI report states that Willens's father was Tony Accardo's next door neighbor since 1958.
Some sources report that in 1946, Tony Accardo allegedly asked Jack Ruby to go with Pat Manno, Romie Nappi and several other Mafia associates down to Texas in order to make sure local sheriff Steve Gutherie was copasetic with the Mafia’s expansion into Dallas.
Four years prior to the assassination of President Kennedy, Ruby went to see a man named Lewis McWillie in Cuba. Ruby considered McWillie, who had previously run illegal gambling establishments in Texas, to be one of his closest friends.
At the time Ruby visited him, in August 1959, McWillie was supervising gambling activities at Havana's Tropicana Club. Ruby told the Warren Commission that his August trip to Cuba was merely a social visit at the invitation of McWillie.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations would later conclude that Ruby "…most likely was serving as a courier for gambling interests."
The committee also found "circumstantial," but not conclusive, evidence that "…Ruby met with [Mafia boss] Santo Trafficante in Cuba sometime in 1959."
About an hour after President Kennedy was shot, White House correspondent Seth Kantor (who was a passenger in the motorcade) arrived at Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was receiving medical care. As Kantor was entering the hospital through a stairway, he felt a tug on his coat. He turned around to see Ruby who called him by his first name and shook his hand. (Kantor had become acquainted with Ruby when Kantor was a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald newspaper.)
Ruby asked Kantor if he thought that it would be a good idea for him to close his nightclubs for the next three nights because of the tragedy and Kantor responded that he thought that doing so would be a good idea.
It has been suggested that Ruby might have been involved in tampering with evidence while at the hospital.
Ruby would later deny he had been at Parkland Hospital and the Warren Commission decided to believe Ruby rather than Kantor. (In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations reversed the Warren Commission's judgement, stating: "While the Warren Commission concluded that Kantor was mistaken [about his Parkland meeting with Ruby], the Committee determined he probably was not.")
Goaded by the Warren Commission's dismissal of his testimony, Seth Kantor researched the Ruby case for years. In a later published book Who Was Jack Ruby?, Kantor wrote:
The mob was Ruby's "friend." And Ruby could well have been paying off an IOU the day he was used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald. Remember: "I have been used for a purpose," the way Ruby expressed it to Chief Justice Warren in their June 7, 1964 session. It would not have been hard for the mob to maneuver Ruby through the ranks of a few negotiable police [to kill Oswald].
Witness Wilma Tice also said that she saw Jack Ruby at Parkland Hospital during the time Kennedy was being treated there.
Called to testify before the Warren Commission, Tice said that she received an anonymous phone call from a man telling her "…that it would pay me to keep my mouth shut."
Within hours of Ruby's arrest for shooting Oswald, a telegram was received at the Dallas city jail in support of Ruby, under the names of Hal and Pauline Collins.
In one of the Warren Commissions exhibits, Hal Collins is listed as a character reference by Ruby on a Texas liquor license application. Hal Collin's sister was married to Robert Clark, the brother of then-sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Tom C. Clark. Tom C. Clark advised newspaper columnist Drew Pearson that financier Henry Crown and the Hilton Hotel chain had financial interests in syndicated racketeering activities in Chicago.
Tom C. Clark also recommended that the Warren Commission appoint Henry Crown's attorney, Albert E. Jenner, Jr., to serve as assistant counsel to the commission.
Some writers, including former Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi, dismiss Ruby's connections to organized crime as being minimal at best:
It is very noteworthy that without exception, not one of these conspiracy theorists knew or had ever met Jack Ruby. Without our even resorting to his family and roommate, all of whom think the suggestion of Ruby being connected to the mob is ridiculous, those who knew him, unanimously and without exception, think the notion of his being connected to the Mafia, and then killing Oswald for them, is nothing short of laughable.
Bill Alexander, who prosecuted Ruby for Oswald's murder, equally rejected any suggestions that Ruby was part-and-parcel of organized crime, claiming that conspiracy theorists based it on the claim that "A knew B, and Ruby knew B back in 1950, so he must have known A, and that must be the link to the conspiracy."
Ruby's brother Earl denied allegations that Jack was involved in racketeering Chicago nightclubs, and author Gerald Posner suggests that Ruby may have been confusedwith Harry Rubenstein, a convicted Chicago felon. Entertainment reporter Tony Zoppi is also dismissive of mob ties. He knew Ruby and described him as a "born loser."
Murder of Oswald
Ruby about to shoot Oswald who is being moved by Police.Ruby (also known as "Sparky," from his boxing nickname "Sparkling Ruby") was seen in the halls of the Dallas Police Headquarters on several occasions after the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963; and newsreel footage from WFAA-TV (Dallas) and NBC shows Ruby impersonating a newspaper reporter during a press conference at Dallas Police Headquarters on the night of the assassination. District Attorney Henry Wade briefed reporters at the press conference telling them that Lee Oswald was a member of the anti-Castro Free Cuba Committee. Ruby was one of many people there who spoke up to correct Wade, saying: "Henry, that's the Fair Play for Cuba Committee," a pro-Castro organization.
Some speculate that Ruby may have hoped to kill Oswald that night at the police station press conference.
Ruby told the FBI, a month after his arrest for killing Oswald, that he had his loaded snub-nosed Colt Cobra .38 revolver in his right-hand pocket during the press conference.
Two days later on Sunday, November 24, after driving into town and sending a money order to one of his employees, Ruby walked to the nearby police headquarters and made his way to the basement. At 11:21 am CST — while authorities were preparing to transfer Oswald by armored car from the police basement to the nearby county jail — Ruby stepped out from a crowd of reporters and fired his .38 revolver into Oswald's abdomen, fatally wounding him. The shooting was broadcast live nationally, and millions of television viewers witnessed it. There is some evidence that Ruby's actions were on a whim, as he left his favorite dog, Sheba, in the car before shooting Oswald.
However, the House Select Committee on Assassinations in its 1979 Final Report opined:…Ruby's shooting of Oswald was not a spontaneous act, in that it involved at least some premeditation. Similarly, the committee believed 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 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… There is also evidence that the Dallas Police Department withheld relevant information from the Warren Commission concerning Ruby's entry to the scene of the Oswald transfer.
When Ruby was arrested immediately after the shooting, he told several witnesses that he helped the city of Dallas "redeem" itself in the eyes of the public, and that Oswald's death would spare "…Mrs. Kennedy the discomfiture of coming back to trial."
At the time of the shooting Ruby said he was taking phenmetrazine, a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.
Ruby's explanation for killing Oswald would be "exposed … as a fabricated legal ploy", according to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. In a private note to one of his attorneys, Joseph Tonahill, Ruby wrote: "Joe, you should know this. [My first lawyer] Tom Howard told me to say that I shot Oswald so that Caroline and Mrs. Kennedy wouldn't have to come to Dallas to testify. OK?"
Ruby's ploy was confirmed by attorney Melvin Belli. In his book, Dallas Justice, Belli wrote that Ruby told him: "We know I did it for Jackie and the kids… Maybe I ought to forget this silly story that I'm telling, and get on the stand and tell the truth."
Another motive was put forth by Frank Sheeran, allegedly a hitman for the Mafia, in a conversation he had with the then-former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. During the conversation, Hoffa claimed that Ruby was assigned the task of coordinating police officers who were loyal to Ruby to murder Oswald while he was in their custody. As Ruby evidently mismanaged the operation, he was given a choice to either finish the job himself or forfeit his life.
Prosecution and conviction
After Ruby's arrest, he asked Dallas attorney Tom Howard to represent him. Howard accepted and asked Ruby if he could think of anything that might damage his defense. Ruby responded that there would be a problem if a man by the name of "Davis" should come up. Ruby told his attorney that he "…had been involved with Davis, who was a gunrunner entangled in anti-Castro efforts."
Davis was identified only years later, after research by journalist Seth Kantor, as being Thomas Eli Davis III, a CIA-connected "soldier of fortune."
Later, Ruby replaced attorney Tom Howard with prominent San Francisco defense attorney Melvin Belli who agreed to represent Ruby pro bono. Some observers thought that the case could have been disposed of as a "murder without malice" charge (roughly equivalent to manslaughter), with a maximum prison sentence of five years. Belli attempted to prove, however, that Ruby was legally insane and had a history of mental illness in his family (the latter being true, as his mother had been committed to a mental hospital years before).
On March 14, 1964, Ruby was convicted of murder with malice, for which he received a death sentence.
During the six months following the Kennedy assassination, Ruby repeatedly asked, orally and in writing, to speak to the members of the Warren Commission. The commission initially showed no interest. Only after Ruby's sister Eileen wrote letters to the commission (and her letters became public) did the Warren Commission agree to talk to Ruby. In June 1964, Chief Justice Earl Warren, then-Representative Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, and other commission members went to Dallas to see Ruby. Ruby asked Warren several times to take him to Washington D.C., saying "my life is in danger here" and that he wanted an opportunity to make additional statements. He added: "I want to tell the truth, and I can't tell it here."
Warren told Ruby that he would be unable to comply, because many legal barriers would need to be broken and public interest in the situation would be too heavy. Warren also told Ruby that the commission would have no way of protecting him, since it had no police powers. Ruby said he wanted to convince President Lyndon Johnson that he was not part of any conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
Following Ruby's March 1964 conviction for murder with malice, Ruby's lawyers, led by Sam Houston Clinton, appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in Texas. Ruby's lawyers argued that he could not have received a fair trial in the city of Dallas because of the excessive publicity surrounding the case. A year after his conviction, in March 1965, Ruby conducted a brief televised news conference in which he stated: "Everything pertaining to what's happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts of what occurred, my motives. The people who had so much to gain, and had such an ulterior motive for putting me in the position I'm in, will never let the true facts come above board to the world." When asked by a reporter, "Are these people in very high positions Jack?", he responded "Yes."
Dallas Deputy Sheriff Al Maddox claimed: "Ruby told me, he said, 'Well, they injected me for a cold.' He said it was cancer cells. That's what he told me, Ruby did. I said you don't believe that bullshit. He said, 'I damn sure do!' [Then] one day when I started to leave, Ruby shook hands with me and I could feel a piece of paper in his palm… [In this note] he said it was a conspiracy and he said … if you will keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, you're gonna learn a lot. And that was the last letter I ever got from him."
Not long before Ruby died, according to an article in the London Sunday Times, he told psychiatrist Werner Teuter that the assassination was "an act of overthrowing the government" and that he knew "who had President Kennedy killed." He added: "I am doomed. I do not want to die. But I am not insane. I was framed to kill Oswald."
Eventually, the appellate court agreed with Ruby's lawyers for a new trial, and on October 5, 1966, ruled that his motion for a change of venue before the original trial court should have been granted. Ruby's conviction and death sentence were overturned. Arrangements were underway for a new trial to be held in February 1967 in Wichita Falls, Texas, when on December 9, 1966, Ruby was admitted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, suffering from pneumonia. A day later, doctors realized he had cancer in his liver, lungs, and brain. Three weeks later, he died.
According to an unnamed Associated Press source, Ruby made a final statement from his hospital bed on December 19 that he alone had been responsible for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. "There is nothing to hide… There was no one else," Ruby said.
In Gerald Posner's book Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, Ruby's friends, relatives and associates stress how upset he was upon hearing of Kennedy's murder, even crying on occasion, and how he went so far as to close his loss-making clubs for three days as a mark of respect.
Dallas reporter Tony Zoppi, who knew Ruby well, claims that one "would have to be crazy" to entrust Ruby with anything as important as a high-level plot to kill Kennedy since 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."
He and others describe Ruby as the sort who enjoyed being at "the center of attention", trying to make friends with people and being more of a nuisance.
Ruby died of a pulmonary embolism, secondary to bronchogenic carcinoma (lung cancer), on January 3, 1967 at Parkland Hospital, where Oswald had died and where President Kennedy had been pronounced dead after his assassination. He was buried beside his parents in the Westlawn Cemetery in Norridge, Illinois.
Considering the relatively short time period between the time of the assassination and his death, there was suspicion that Ruby knew of his terminal cancer at the time of the assassination, which may have contributed to his motives. When asked by the House Select Committee on Assassinations if Ruby could have known about his cancer, Dallas County medical examiner Dr. Earl Rose, who performed the autopsy on Ruby, replied, "No".