Wednesday, December 30, 2015

History’s Rich With Mysteries with Earl Staggs: JACK RUBY. . .Why Did He Shoot Oswald?

Please welcome back Earl Staggs with his latest installment in his “History’s Rich With Mysteries” blog series….

When I look at the past, I find stories about people which fascinate me, particularly those in which there is a curious mixture of fact, legend, and mysterious uncertainty. In this series of articles, I want to explore some of those stories. I think of them as mysteries swaddled in legend. While truth is always desired in most things, truth easily becomes staid and boring. Legend, on the other hand, forever holds a hint of romanticism and an aura of excitement borne of adventure, imagination and, of course, mystery. 

JACK RUBY. . .Why Did He Shoot Oswald? by Earl Staggs

Say you want to shoot someone.  It’s important to choose the right time and place. You certainly wouldn’t do it:

. . .at a police station.
. . .when you’re surrounded by cops, reporters, and photographers with cameras rolling.
. . .if the man you want to shoot is handcuffed to a cop.

Doesn’t sound very smart, does it? In fact, it sounds like the worst possible way to go about it.

Yet that’s exactly how Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy. I’ve always wondered why Ruby shot Oswald the way he did.

Oswald was arrested on November 22, 1963, a few hours after President Kennedy had been shot. After two days of interrogation at Dallas police headquarters, Oswald was to be transferred to a county jail. As he was being escorted out of the police station into a garage where a car awaited, Ruby stepped out of the crowd of police officers, reporters and photographers and shot him. Ruby was immediately subdued and arrested.

Some researchers and conspiracy theorists contend Ruby was involved with major figures in organized crime, and he killed Oswald as part of an overall plot surrounding the Kennedy assassination. The masterminds behind the assassination didn’t trust Oswald to keep his mouth shut and assigned the task of silencing him to Ruby. A woman who danced at one of Ruby’s clubs lent credence to that theory.  “He had no choice,” she said. “Jack had bosses, just like everyone else. He was instructed on what he needed to do, therefore he did it.”

Variations of that conspiracy theory hold that Ruby was ordered to kill Oswald by Jimmy Hoffa. Another version said the Mafia gave the order. Another had the order coming from Cuba. Still another involves major politicians in our own government.

The plots connecting Ruby to a major conspiracy don’t hold up for two reasons. First, Oswald had been in custody and under interrogation for two days already.  If he had names of co-conspirators to divulge, he probably would have done so by then, and it would have made the news.  Second, everyone who knew him argued that Ruby's connection with gangsters was minimal, and Ruby was not the sort anyone would trust in a high-level conspiracy.[5]

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. He'd be the worst fellow in the world to be part of a conspiracy, because he just plain talked too much.” Zoppi and others described Ruby as a man who wanted to be friends with people who had power and money, but only succeeding in being a nuisance to them.

Without exception, his family and friends felt the suggestion that Ruby was connected to the mob was ridiculous and that his killing Oswald for them was laughable. 
The Warren Commission, the group given the responsibility of investigating the Kennedy assassination, eventually found no evidence linking Ruby's killing of Oswald with any conspiracy.

There’s also the timeline of the morning Oswald was shot, which makes it clear Ruby’s act was not even premeditated.
Oswald’s being moved from Dallas police headquarters to the county jail was originally scheduled for 10:00 a.m. The press was there waiting before that time. Postal inspector Harry Holmes arrived at police headquarters unannounced and was invited to question the prisoner. Due to this unexpected delay, Oswald was not brought down to the garage until after eleven. He was shot by Ruby at 11:21 a.m. 

Ruby’s day began with errands. He took one of his beloved dogs (or two – both numbers have been stated) along with him. His last stop was the Western Union office across the street from police headquarters. His transaction there was time-stamped by Western Union at 11:17. He left Western Union and walked across the street, probably to say hello to some of his pals in blue at the station. He often visited his friends on the force, so it was not unusual for anyone to see him there. He walked down the ramp to the garage entrance to the building and was surprised to see a crowd waiting. When he saw Oswald being brought out, he pulled his gun and shot. He frequently had large amounts of money on him and always carried his .38 caliber Colt Cobra revolver for protection. 

If he’d planned to kill Oswald that day, he would have been there at 10:00. Also, author Norman Mailer and others found it hard to believe Ruby would have left his beloved dog (or dogs) in his car if he’d planned on killing Oswald. He would only have done that if he’d planned to return shortly.

So if no shadowy figures or big time conspirators ordered him to shoot Oswald, and if he hadn’t gone there to do it, why did he? The only place to look for a motive would be within Jack Ruby himself.

Jacob Leon Rubenstein was born in Chicago on March 25, 1911, the fifth of ten children. He later shortened his name to Jack Ruby. His troubled childhood and adolescence were marked by    time spent in foster homes. His father was a drunk and an abuser, and his mother spent time in a state hospital for mental illness. In his early years, Jack supported himself as a street hustler scalping sports tickets and other activities. He was drafted into the Army in 1943, was discharged in 1946, and moved to Dallas in 1947.

In Dallas, he managed nightclubs and dance halls and eventually owned three clubs of his own, although they weren’t great moneymakers. By 1963, he had been arrested eight times for various misdemeanors and liquor law violations. During that time, he built relationships with local underworld figures as well as a number of Dallas police officers who visited his nightclubs and received free liquor, prostitutes and other favors.

Jack Ruby was foul-mouthed and mean-tempered and didn’t drink or smoke. Although he was violently opposed to drugs, he maintained his high energy level by popping Preludin – a popular “upper” sold as an appetite suppressant.

Shortly after his arrest for shooting Oswald, Ruby told several people he did it so Dallas could “redeem” itself and so that Mrs. Kennedy would be spared the ordeal of coming back to Dallas for Oswald’s trial. In a private note to one of his attorneys, however, Ruby wrote, “Joe, you should know that my first lawyer told me to say I shot Oswald so Caroline and Mrs. Kennedy wouldn’t have to come to Dallas to testify. OK?”

Based on that, the House Select Committee on Assassinations discounted that explanation for the shooting of Oswald as “a fabricated legal ploy." Ruby’s lawyer apparently thought it would buy his client some sympathy from the jury.

Ruby was devastated over the death of Kennedy. His friends, relatives and associates all told how upset he was. He closed his clubs for three days as a mark of respect.

Melvin Belli, who became Ruby's lawyer, wrote, ''There was one weird trait. Unfailingly, at the mention of a member of President Kennedy's family, tears would start to course down his cheeks.”

Ruby's sister, Eva Grant, testified to the emotional turmoil Ruby experienced the weekend of the assassination. ''He was sick to his stomach and looked terrible.” According to his sister, Ruby remarked, “I never felt so bad in all my life even when Ma and Pa died. Someone tore my heart out.''

After the assassination, Ruby visited his synagogue and cried. His brother Hyman said, ''They didn't believe a guy like Jack would ever cry.”

Based on Ruby’s mental state at the time, it’s not hard to conclude that when he accidentally found himself not ten feet from Oswald, he did not think about it at all. His emotions exploded, he brought out his gun and pulled the trigger. He reportedly yelled "You killed the president, you rat!"

Ruby told Assistant D.A. Bill Alexander, ''Well, you guys couldn't do it. Someone had to do it. That son of a bitch killed my President.''

Two other points need to be mentioned. After Ruby died, an autopsy revealed his body was riddled with cancer, including brain tumors. The disease was not diagnosed, but had been eating away inside him for some time and might have warped his common sense and sound judgment.

In addition, Ruby had always wanted to be a hero. James Leavelle, the homicide detective handcuffed to Oswald when he was shot, asked Ruby why he did it. Ruby’s answer was, ''I wanted to be a hero. It looks like I f***ed things up.'' Leavelle also said Ruby told him years before, “I'd like to see two police officers sometime in a death struggle about to lose their lives, and I could jump in there and save them and be a hero.''

It’s possible that in his grief-laden mind where tumors were growing, Ruby thought it was his duty to avenge the death of the President by killing Oswald. It’s possible in those few seconds before he drew his gun and fired, he thought he would be given a medal and cheered as a great American hero. When one of his dancers came to visit him in jail, he told her she needn’t worry and everything would be okay after the first of the year. He believed he would soon be out of jail and running his nightclubs as usual.

After his arrest, he was diagnosed as a ''psychotic depressive.'' He also became obsessive about the treatment of Jews. His family was staunchly Jewish, and while in jail, Jack urged his brother to pack up and go into hiding because another Holocaust was coming.

While awaiting trial, Ruby asked to speak to the Warren Commission but got no response. On March 14, 1964, Ruby was convicted of murder with malice received a death sentence. Finally, three months after the sentencing, Chief Justice Earl Warren and other members of the Commission traveled to Dallas to see him. 

"My life is in danger here,” Ruby said. “I want to tell the truth, and I can't tell it here." Ruby said he wanted to go to Washington so he could convince President Lyndon Johnson that he was not part of any conspiracy to kill Kennedy. Ruby held President Johnson in high esteem and believed him to be an honest and fair man. Warren did not take him to meet with President Johnson.

''In the beginning,'' Attorney Joe Tonahill said, ''Ruby considered himself a hero. He thought he had done a great service for the community. When Mayor Earle Cabell testified that the act brought great disgrace to Dallas, Jack started going downhill very fast. He got more nervous by the day. When they brought in the death penalty, he cracked. Ten days later, he rammed his head into a cell wall. Then he tried to kill himself with an electric light socket. Then he tried to hang himself with sheets.''

The reality of being convicted of murder and sentenced to death instead of being hailed as a hero drove Ruby’s mind even more down the road to delusion. He even became somewhat of a conspiracy theorist himself. In March 1965, a year after his conviction, Ruby said in a televised news conference, “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 if the people he referred to were in high office, Ruby responded, “Yes.” Apparently, by then, he had changed his mind about President Johnson. He said, “When I mentioned about Adlai Stevenson, if he was vice president there would never have been an assassination of our beloved President Kennedy. Well, the answer is the man in office now.”

It seems Ruby decided that since Johnson would not let explain why he did what he did, he would put the blame for everything on him.

When told he had cancer, he claimed the higher-ups had injected it into him, which was ridiculous. If they wanted to shut him up, they would have chosen a weapon more rapid and efficient than cancer cells.

Eventually, the appellate court ruled that a 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. On December 9, 1966, however, Ruby was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted to Parkland Hospital, the same hospital both Kennedy and Oswald had been taken to after being shot. 

According to the Associated Press , Ruby stated from his hospital bed on December 19, 1966, that he alone had been responsible for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. He said, "There is nothing to hide. There was no one else."

He died on January 3, 1967, three weeks after being hospitalized. An autopsy revealed the brain tumors and massive spread of cancer. A blood clot in his leg finally killed him.

I think his final statement came in a rare moment of clarity during his last days and is close enough to be considered a deathbed confession. Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald completely on his own and for his own reasons because, in his cancer-addled mind, he thought he would be considered a hero.

But Jack Ruby’s legacy goes beyond the shooting of an alleged assassin. There will always be those who believe Oswald did not act alone and that people in high places were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.  If Oswald had lived, there’s a possibility his trial might have brought out some truths. Jack Ruby obliterated that possibility. Because of what he did, there could be facts about that incident in Dallas that will always be shrouded in mystery.

Earl Staggs ©2015

Earl Staggs earned all Five Star reviews for his novels MEMORY OF A MURDER and JUSTIFIED ACTION and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. 

He invites any comments via email at
He also invites you to visit his blog site at to learn more about his novels and stories.


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Very well written blog post. Fascinating part of history. Staggs takes the reader there and helps us understand the different theories.

Kaye George said...

Thanks for this thorough coverage of a puzzling and fascinating event, Earl. Great post!

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great post, Earl. I learned some facts. Thanks!

Jan Christensen said...

Fascinating research, as always, Earl. Thanks for sharing the results with the rest of us!

Earl Staggs said...

Thanks, Sylvia, Kaye, Caroline and Jan for coming by and leaving a comment. I'm glad you find these articles interesting and I appreciate your compliments. I don't deserve one for proofreading, tho.

In the fourth paragraph from the end, I wrote, "Ruby stated from his hospital bed on December 19, 1996." That should have read "1966."

In the following paragraph, I said, "He died on January 3, 1997." The year should have been "1967."

Please don't tell Kevin about my errors. He might not let me post here again.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Fixed as requested.

Thank you again for doing these Earl.