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Ruby, Jack L.locked

(1911–03 January 1967)
  • David R. Wrone

Ruby, Jack L. (1911–03 January 1967), assassin, was born Jack Rubenstein in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Joseph Rubenstein, a carpenter, and Fannie Turek Rutkowski, Yiddish-speaking Polish-Jewish immigrants. Ruby gave a half-dozen different dates for his birth, but all in 1911. The fifth of eight living children, he grew to manhood in the midst of poverty in a violent slum, his father an irregularly employed alcoholic and his mother suffering from intermittent mental disease. Amid constant family tumult he finally completed the eighth grade. He was an emotional, quick-tempered, impulsive street brawler.

A nobody who aspired to be somebody, Ruby possessed neither the means nor the natural resources to achieve his goal. In this respect he was not much different from others born into unhappy families whose parents could not make a living. So Ruby began making a living any way that he could; a creature of society and his tainted environment, he sought to rid himself of their hobbling restraints. He did not have the ability to become a real gangster but was a hanger-on at pool halls, gymnasiums, and local establishments. The overriding desire of his life was to have others like him. He failed at every project or business enterprise he undertook throughout his life.

In the 1930s Ruby engaged in street peddling, selling racing sheets, and running sales promotions in the Chicago area. From 1937 until 1940 he worked as a union organizer for Local 20467 of the Scrap Iron and Junk Handlers Union. He then sold novelties and punch boards for gambling until drafted into the air force in 1943. Upon discharge in 1946 he returned to Chicago and sold novelties until 1947, when he moved to Dallas, Texas. That same year he changed his name to Jack Ruby.

Ruby was an undisciplined businessman, and his finances were often in a state of chaos. He ultimately became owner of the Carousel Club, a sleazy Dallas nightclub featuring striptease acts. He was noted for a volatile temper and sudden violent acts. He was a police buff, making friends of officers and in other ways ingratiating himself to those in positions of visible power.

Ruby was arrested several times for minor crimes, traffic tickets, and license violations and had a variety of charges made against him, some serious and a few bizarre. The files of Dallas district attorney Henry Wade contained a letter from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Ruby had a dog named Sheba whom he sometimes referred to as his wife. The SPCA was concerned that Ruby was treating her that way. It had reason to believe it. Another complaint charged that at a fair Ruby publicly fondled the breasts of adolescent girls, remarking to friends, “I’m just breaking them in to come to work for me.”

Ruby’s notoriety, however, stems from his assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald and subsequent questions as to whether Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Questions also arose regarding Ruby’s connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI officials grudgingly admitted having contact with Ruby to enlist him as a criminal informant, but claimed he did not make the grade. The bureau, however, refused to release its records about Ruby’s status as an informant. The processes of contact, enlistment, pay, and results would have generated Criminal Informant classification files 137 at the Dallas field office and FBI headquarters.

The assassination of Kennedy on 22 November 1963 in Dallas gave Ruby a serendipitous opportunity to be somebody. Oswald was arrested as a suspect in the assassination, and on 24 November the police announced they would move him from the city jail to the county jail at 10:00 a.m. A postal inspector arrived to complete his interrogation of Oswald, however, and delayed the transfer. At 11:15 the police escorted Oswald to the garage in the basement, where a van was waiting. Meanwhile Ruby stopped at the Western Union building opposite the police station at 11:17 to send money to one of his strippers. He then walked into the station basement with seventy police officers in the area as Oswald emerged, handcuffed to Detective James R. Leavelle. At 11:21 a.m. Ruby killed Oswald with a single fatal shot.

The killing unleashed a torrent of conspiracy speculation. In the aftermath federal officials launched a massive investigation of Ruby, at the same time focusing on Oswald as the lone assassin of the president. The official investigation conducted by the Warren Commission “found no evidence that … Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign.”

No evidence has been found to suggest that Oswald and Ruby had ever seen each other, let alone conspired together. Rumors of such a relationship lack any confirmation. In killing Oswald, however, Ruby eliminated any assassination trial in which evidence about Oswald’s responsibility could be presented and tested. Ruby’s action, then, accounts for subsequent controversies and for the ensuing legacy of disenchantment with government that is reflected in many polls.

The presumptions that the Mafia or the Central Intelligence Agency or Cuba was behind the assassination of Oswald through Ruby are contradicted by known and indisputable facts. Ruby’s oft-cited remark to Chief Justice Earl Warren of the commission investigating the crime that if taken to Washington he would talk was prattle from a mind increasingly irrational. A psychiatrist who evaluated him for his defense counsel reported that Ruby had serious psychiatric problems and was “not now capable of cooperating intelligently in his own defense.”

Ruby was tried for Oswald’s murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death, unusual in a city where the typical sentence for gunshot murder was eight years in prison. The sentence was overturned on appeal in October 1966. While he awaited a second trial, Ruby became ill and was transferred to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where both Kennedy and Oswald had also been taken. There doctors discovered advanced stages of cancer of the brain. Ruby soon died in Dallas. Questions about Ruby remain; indeed, some have asked whether the illness so long undetected could have affected his behavior in 1963.

Ruby never married.


Ruby left few papers. A vast federal collection of documents related to Ruby compiled by the assassination investigations is in the National Archives. The Texas Court of Inquiry deposited files in the state archives in Austin. The papers of most major figures involved in the investigation contain material on Ruby, including Gerald Ford in the Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Richard Russell in Athens, Ga.; John Sherman Cooper in Lexington, Ky.; Earl Warren in the Library of Congress; Lyndon B. Johnson in the Johnson Library in Austin; Allen Dulles at Princeton University; and Texas attorney general Waggoner Carr at Baylor University. The psychiatric reports of Dr. L. J. West and Dr. R. L. Stubblefield are in the Cooper papers. The papers of critic and scholar Harold Weisberg, Frederick, Md., to be deposited in Hood College, contain essential files, along with his correspondence with District Attorney Henry Wade and his notes and aide memoirs on the Wade files and Ruby. The Warren Commission Report (1964) discusses Ruby throughout and includes a biography, pp. 779–806, while its twenty-six-volume Hearings and Exhibits (1964) contains essential exhibits and witness testimony. The House Select Committee on Assassinations Report of 1979 and its twelve volumes of reports and testimony are a recent addition to the National Archives. Almost every book on the assassination of President Kennedy discusses Ruby, most superficially and often distorted by theories. Four volumes on the trial itself that also discuss his life are Melvin M. Belli and Maurice C. Carroll, Dallas Justice (1964); John Kaplan and Jon R. Waltz, The Trial of Jack Ruby (1965); Garry Wills and Ovid Demaris, Jack Ruby (1968); and Elmer Gertz, Moment of Madness: The People vs. Jack Ruby (1968). Most volumes discussing Ruby are flawed by speculation, such as Renatus Hartogs and Lucy Freeman, The Two Assassins (1965); Seth Kantor, The Ruby Cover-Up (1978); and Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (1966). A representative refutation of the speculators is in the objective refutation of Lane by Gertz, pp. 507–43, and Wills and Demaris, pp. 160–67, 208–46. The best approach to President Kennedy’s assassination is through Harold Weisberg, Whitewash (1965) and Never Again (1995), and Sylvia Meagher, Accessories after the Fact (1967).