Jack Ruby was a nightclub owner from Dallas, Texas, who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President JOHN F. KENNEDY, two days after Kennedy's assassination in Dallas. Millions of people watched on
national television as Ruby shot Oswald while the Dallas police were attempting to move Oswald from the police station to another location. Questions about how Ruby was able to gain access to the police station and why he killed Oswald have never been fully answered. These questions, as well as the silencing of Oswald himself, are among the reasons why some believe that Oswald was part of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
Ruby was born Jack Rubenstein on March 25, 1911, in Chicago, Illinois. He quit school after sixth grade and lived a life on the streets during adolescence. He was known for his explosive temper and willingness to fight. In the early 1930s he lived in California but soon moved back to Chicago. He tried short-lived careers as a salesman, union organizer, and boxer. In 1943 he was drafted into the Army Air Force and served until 1946. In 1947 Ruby moved to Dallas to help his sister manage a nightclub she owned. He served as manager and unofficial bouncer of the club and soon became acquainted with members of the Dallas police force. He later moved to the Carousel Club and, anxious to be accepted, befriended many police officers by giving them free drinks and hospitality. The police regarded Ruby as a harmless figure who enjoyed the aura of law enforcement. Those in the criminal world considered Ruby an informer, who told the police everything he knew about criminal activity.
On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. Ruby was distraught at the news of the assassination and headed for the Dallas police headquarters. A well-known face at the police station, he was allowed into headquarters on November 23. On Sunday, November 24, Oswald was scheduled to be transferred to the county jail around 10:00 A.M., but a series of events delayed his move until 11:00 A.M. Ruby, who had parked his car one block away from the police station around that time, walked down the rampway to the basement garage of the police station. The guard at the basement entrance had momentarily left his post to stop traffic so that the police convoy with Oswald could leave the building. Ruby walked into the garage, which was filled with police officers, reporters, and camera crews. As Oswald appeared, flanked by police detectives, Ruby approached him with a .38-caliber gun and fatally shot him. Ruby was immediately arrested.
As Ruby prepared for his murder trial, his attorney, Tom Howard, prepared a defense based on the theory that the killing was a crime of passion committed without malice or premeditation by an unstable man. If this defense had been successful, Ruby would have received a maximum of five years in prison under Texas law. Before trial, however, Ruby's family discharged Howard and retained Melvin M. Belli, a well-known and controversial San Francisco attorney. Belli elected to present a defense of total insanity in the hope Ruby would be acquitted. Belli asserted that Ruby had experienced an epileptic seizure and had shot Oswald while under the influence of this impairment.
The case against Ruby was substantial. After the shooting, Ruby had given statements to the police, one of which suggested premeditation. Medical authorities did not support Belli's medical diagnosis of Ruby. On March 16, 1964, a jury convicted Ruby of premeditated murder, and he was sentenced to death.
Ruby's conviction was reversed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in October 1966, but he died in prison of a blood clot, complicated by cancer, on January 3, 1967.
Many questions surrounding Ruby's motives and actions remain unanswered. The Kennedy assassination and the Oswald shooting were investigated by a presidential commission headed by Chief Justice EARL WARREN. The Warren Report, issued in 1964, concluded that the bullets that killed Kennedy had been fired by Oswald's rifle and that there was no evidence that either Oswald or Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or international, to assassinate the president.
Many people were unpersuaded by the Warren Report's conclusion that Oswald acted alone. Since 1964 numerous books and theories have asserted that the Kennedy assassination was the result of a conspiracy. One theory proposed that ORGANIZED CRIME had killed Kennedy and that Ruby had underworld connections. In 1979 a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives reexamined the evidence from 1963 and concluded that there had probably been two gunmen and that a conspiracy was likely. This committee noted that in the weeks preceding the assassination Ruby had made several phone calls to persons associated with organized crime. Other commentators have discounted the phone calls, as they were made before Kennedy's trip to Dallas and the route his motorcade would take were announced.
Dempsey, John Mark, ed. 2000. The Jack Ruby Trial Revisited: The Diary of Jury Foreman Max Causey Denton: Univ. of North Texas Press.
Posner, Gerald. 1993. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. New York: Random House.