Friday, October 11, 2013

HE CHANGED THE COURSE OF U.S. HISTORY - Jack Ruby

Westlawn Jewish Cemetery in Norridge, Illinois is a beautiful, peaceful place.  Anyone visiting Westlawn would certainly notice the quiet, occasionally broken by the chanting of mourners at graveside services. Were you to walk among the flat gravestones in the Violet section of Westlawn, you would never guess that someone buried there literally, and some say single-handedly, changed the course of U.S. history. Who is it that is the most famous, or infamous, permanent resident of Westlawn Cemetery?  


Jack Ruby - the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John F. Kennedy, on live television.

 
The defining moment for my generation was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Ask anyone who was alive back then where they were when they heard the news and they will be able to tell you - in minute detail.  Being part Irish, my family LOVED President Kennedy and so we were riveted to our (black and white) television to watch the coverage of the aftermath of the assassination and the funeral of the president. We were watching on Sunday, November 24, 1963 as JFK's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald was being transferred from the Dallas police station to the county lockup.  And we watched live as Oswald was himself assassinated by Jack Ruby.  Just who was Jack Ruby? Let's see what we can "dig up" about Westlawn Cemetery's most infamous resident.

Jacob Leon Rubenstein was born March 25, 1911 in Chicago to Joseph Rubenstein (1871–1958) and Fannie Turek Rutkowski (1875-1944), both Polish-born, Orthodox Jews.  The 1920 Census has the Rubenstein family living at 1232 S. Morgan Street in the midst of the Jewish immigrant enclave in Chicago. Unfortunately, 1232 S. Morgan is now a vacant lot.  Jacob joined his siblings Hyman (1901-1970), Anna (1903-1985), Marion/Mary (1906-1995), Eva (1909-1992), Sam (1912-????), Eael/Isadore (1915-2006) and Ida/Eileen (1917-2000).  The Rubenstein family had come to the US in 1903.  Joseph Rubenstein was a carpenter, and the language spoken at home was Yiddish.  

On June 6, 1922 when Jack was 11 years old, he had his first brush with the law when he was arrested for truancy.  By his own admission he spent more time at the racetrack than he did in school.   Young Rubenstein sold horse-racing tip sheets and various other novelties, then acted as business agent for a local refuse collectors union that later became part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The 1930 Census shows some upheaval in the Rubenstein family. Jack's father Joseph, and his brother Samuel moved out to 1355 Peoria Street.  Joseph indicated his marital status as "Divorced". Unfortunately, 1355 Peoria Street no longer exists, either.  Jack was living with the rest of the family at 739 S. Kostner, where Hyman, his oldest brother was listed as the Head of Household.  On the 1930 Census, 19 year old Jack was listed as not having an occupation. Hyman was listed as a securities salesman, and Marion was listed as a mimeographer for a bond house.  Jack's mother Fannie listed her marital status as "Married".  As with so many properties in the old Jewish neighborhood, 739 S. Kostner is a vacant lot as well.

Jack Rubenstein's first mention in the Chicago Daily Tribune came on July 2, 1933:


Jack's address in 1933 was 1222 N. Sawyer Avenue in Chicago.  A factory now stands at 1222 N. Sawyer.  Interesting that Jack added four years to his age to make him 26 when he was really only 22, and that, as the article said, he had from 300 to 500 peddlers selling the coupons!

Rubenstein and Leon R. Cooke, an attorney, organized the Waste Material Handlers Federal Labor Union in 1937.  Cooke was shot to death two years later.


There must have been a reconciliation in the Rubenstein family, because the 1940 Census shows the whole family living back together at 624 Independence Boulevard.

624 Independence Boulevard, Chicago

29 year old Jack listed his occupation as Secretary of a Union.

In fact, early in 1940, Jack, who was then known as "Sparky" Rubenstein lost his union position after Paul Dorfman, a close friend of Jimmy Hoffa, took over the union.   He received the nickname "Sparky" from his boxing nickname "Sparkling Ruby."

Although Jack's older brother Hyman enlisted in the Service in World War II, Jack did not enter until he was drafted in 1943.  He served in the Army Air Forces, working as an aircraft mechanic at bases in the U.S. until 1946.  He had an honorable record and was promoted to Private First Class.


Upon discharge, on February 21, 1946, the almost 35 year old Jack Rubenstein returned to Chicago.

When Jack returned to Chicago he found work selling small cedar chests for a company owned by his brother, Earl. In 1947 Jack moved to Dallas where he managed the Singapore night-club for his sister, Eva Grant.  It was in Dallas where Jack and his brothers shortened their surnames from Rubenstein to Ruby. The stated reason for changing the family name was that he and his brothers had opened up a mail order business and feared that some customers would refuse to do business with Jews.


Jack Ruby with his sister Eva Grant

In October, 1947, Jack Ruby was arrested by the Bureau of Narcotics. Steve Guthrie, the sheriff of Dallas, later claimed that Ruby had been sent by criminals in Chicago to manage illegal gambling activities in the city. However, Jack Ruby was eventually released without charge.

Jack Ruby remained in Dallas and after borrowing money from a friend he purchased the Silver Spur Club. He also acquired the Bob Wills Ranch House, a western-style nightclub.  These clubs were not successful and in 1954 he became a part-owner of the Vegas Club.  His attempts to establish another nightclub, the Sovereign Club, also ended in failure.


Ruby now opened the Carousel Club. He employed a master of ceremonies, a small band and four strippers.


In August 1959 Jack Ruby was invited to visit Cuba by the Dallas nightclub owner, Lewis McWillie.  At that time McWillie was supervising gambling activities at Havana's Tropicana Hotel.  Later, McWillie was involved in the campaign to have Fidel Castro overthrown after he had taken power from Fulgencio Batista.

Ruby's workers were members of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).  Ruby had a record of not paying his workers on time and for dismissing them for unreasonable reasons.  This behaviour resulted in several disputes with the AGVA.  In June 1963 Jack Ruby visited New Orleans where he obtained the services of a stripper known as Jada. After three months she was also dismissed and this caused further union problems.  It is claimed that as a result of his problems with the AGVA Ruby made contact with associates of Mafia leaders, Carlos Marcello and Santos Trafficante, during the summer of 1963.

The Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, attempted to reconstruct Ruby's movements from November 21 through November 24, 1963.  The Commission reported that he was attending to his duties as the proprietor of the Carousel Club in downtown Dallas and the Vegas Club in the city's Oaklawn district from the afternoon of November 21 to the early hours of November 22.

According to the Warren Commission, Ruby was in the second-floor advertising offices of the Dallas Morning News, five blocks away from the Texas School Book Depository, to place weekly advertisements for his nightclubs when he learned of the assassination of Kennedy around 12:45 pm.  Ruby then placed telephone calls to his assistant at the Carousel Club and to his sister.  The Commission stated that an employee of the Dallas Morning News estimated that Ruby left the newspaper's offices at 1:30 pm.

White House correspondent Seth Kantor — who was a passenger in the motorcade — told the Warren Commission that he went to Parkland Hospital about an hour after President Kennedy was shot (1:30 pm). (It was at Parkland Hospital that Kennedy received medical care after the shooting.) Kantor said that as he was entering the hospital, he felt a tug on his coat.  He turned around to see Jack Ruby who called him by his first name and shook his hand.  Kantor said that he had become acquainted with Ruby while he was a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald newspaper.  According to Kantor, Ruby asked him 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.  According to the Warren Commission, Ruby arrived back at the Carousel Club shortly before 1:45 pm to notify employees that the club would be closed that evening.

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 several 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 private 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.

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 stimulant.


After Ruby's arrest, he asked Dallas attorney Tom Howard to represent him.  Later, Ruby replaced attorney Tom Howard with prominent San Francisco defense attorney Melvin Belli who agreed to represent Ruby pro bono.

Jack Ruby with Melvin Belli

 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 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.

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 Dallas because of the excessive publicity surrounding the case.

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.

Jack's body was claimed by his family and they had him brought back to Chicago to be buried in the family plot at Westlawn.


 

Much has been written about who Jack Ruby was, and why he killed Lee Harvey Oswald.  Conspiracy theorists have been happy to add Ruby to the mix, suggesting he was a pawn of the Chicago mob, Fidel Castro, the CIA, the Communists, etc., etc.  When questioned about the possibility of Ruby's killing Oswald at the request of someone else, 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.


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.

We will probably never know the whole story behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Because people are reluctant to leave a mystery unsolved, some will continue to put forth possible scenarios, books will be written, and probably more movies will be made.  We do know that under the grass of Westlawn Cemetery lies the body of one of the major players - whether he acted alone or as the instrument of another, little Jacob Rubenstein from the west side of Chicago changed the course of history forever.

May he rest in peace.

3 comments:

  1. Great research, Jim! Timely too with the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaching.

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  2. From the comment section of my blog - True News USA ;
    Back in the late sixties some prankster stole Jack's grave stone from the cemetery and dumped it a block from my home. My brothers and I found it laying in the middle of the street. When we called PO5-1313 to report it no one wanted to believe it. Finally a squad did respond and he was as shocked as us to see whose gravestone it was.

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  3. Truly amazing how much of this country's history has a Chicago connection. Thanks for sharing!

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